Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 [24:10]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Cello Sonata in F Op.6 [25:13]
Joseph Schuster (cello)
Friedrich Wührer (piano)
rec. 1956

Joseph Schuster (1903-1969) and Friedrich Wührer (1900-1975) forged a remarkably successful musical partnership, resulting in some notable recordings for the American Vox label. I’ve always enjoyed their traversal of the complete music for cello and piano by Beethoven (Vox SVBX 58 – Stereo). They also got together with the violinist Bronislaw Huberman for the Beethoven Triple Concerto, which I’ve never heard. However, I wasn’t able to ascertain whether their collaborations extended beyond the studio and into the concert hall.

Now long forgotten, Schuster was born in Constantinople, of Russian-Jewish origin. Apparently Glazunov pulled a few strings and got the young Joseph into the St. Petersburg Conservatory. When the Russian Revolution broke out the family fled to Berlin, and lessons were resumed with Hugo Becker at the Berlin Hochschule. In 1929 he came to the attention of Wilhelm Furtwängler, who appointed him principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic, apparently the youngest person ever to hold that post. In 1934, as the political situation changed, Schuster moved to New York as principal with the Philharmonic. There he remained until 1944, when he embarked on a solo career, travelling internationally from his home-base in Beverly Hills, California. He performed on a 1720 Goffriller cello which formerly belonged to Emanuel Feuermann.

Whilst the Brahms Sonata needs no introduction, the Strauss Op. 6 will be less familiar. A youthful work, it was composed in 1883 when the composer was nineteen, and dedicated to the Czech cellist Hanuš Wihan (1855-1920), who gave the first performance in Nürnberg on 8 December 1883. It is a lush, late-romantic work in the heroic style, looking forward to the later tone poems. In three conventional movements, the opening movement’s heroism is alternated with lyrical moments. Strauss exploits the upper ranges of the cello and throws in many technical challenges. The second movement is dark in character and, in contrast to the outer movements, is introspective and brooding in nature. The finale again makes use of heroic gestures and confirms for me that it originates from the pen of the same composer who wrote the Violin Sonata.

Schuster draws a big, rich, burnished tone from his cello and projects his sound well. This is definitely an asset in these scores. In the Brahms the balance seems to favour the cellist, with the piano sounding slightly recessed. In the Strauss Sonata the engineers have redressed the problem and the aural picture is more agreeable. It is evident that the players listen to each other, with phrasing and dynamics successfully aligned. The artists are well-matched temperamentally and this probably accounts for their frequent collaborations. With an eye on the bigger picture, their grasp of the structure and architecture of the music makes these readings compelling and invigorating.

These are first-class re-masterings by Alain Deguernel of Forgotten Records, from a good clean LP copy (Vox PL 9910). No notes are included but references to relevant websites are indicated on the back cover. These captivating recordings make a welcome return.

Stephen Greenbank