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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1771-1827) 
Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69 [19:30]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, D821 [18:21]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) 
Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 [20:25]
Max REGER (1873-1916) 
Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in G Major, Op. 131c, No. 1 [14:43]
Emanuel Feuermann (cello)
Myra Hess (piano: Beethoven)
Gerald Moore (piano: Schubert)
Theo van der Pas (piano: Brahms)
rec. EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London, 28-29 June 1937 (Beethoven), 29-30 June 1937 (Schubert), 10-11 July 1934 (Brahms), 7 February 1939 (Reger)
PRISTINE AUDIO PACM 086 [72:59]

It was dubbed the ‘Million Dollar Trio’- Messrs Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann. This was the context in which I first became acquainted with the cellist Emanuel Feuermann. Those wonderful recordings of the Beethoven Op. 97 Archduke, and the Schubert Trio in B flat, Op 99 I still cherish and return to very often. Feuermann died in 1942 at the age of 39, as a result of complications following a surgical procedure. The cellist Gregor Piatigorsky later replaced him. Heifetz said that a talent like Feuermann’s comes once every hundred years. Artur Rubinstein paid him the ultimate compliment - ‘the greatest cellist of all time’. As Heifetz did with the violin so Feuermann raised the technical level of cello playing to new heights.
 
Pristine and Mark Obert-Thorn have here gathered together three cello and piano collaborations and one solo, recorded between 1934 and 1939. The Beethoven and Schubert were taken down in June 1937. Curiously, over a three-day recording session, Feuermann had two pianists, Myra Hess and Gerald Moore. Hess was the other ‘star’, and considered more appropriate for the Beethoven whilst Moore would partner Feuermann in the Schubert, regarded at the time as a musically less-demanding work. It is regrettable that the recording with Hess is the only Beethoven Sonata that Feuermann ever committed to disc. As a performance I find it disappointing. To begin with, the first movement exposition repeat is omitted, and there are also cuts in the Scherzo and finale. The engineers did not attain a satisfactory balance between the cello and piano, resulting in loss of detail and clarity in the piano part. This is especially evident in the finale’s fast semiquaver passages which are marred by lack of definition. By all accounts, the sessions with Hess were not easy, and stretched on for two days. Feuermann, uncharacteristically, had some technical problems in the rehearsal prior to recording.
 
The Schubert Sonata, on the other hand, is one of Feuermann’s finest achievements on disc. Listening to both these works, it is difficult to believe that they originate from the same session. Moore is a much more sympathetic partner in the Schubert Sonata. Feuermann had never worked with Hess before. With Moore he had already recorded the Andantino from Weber’s Konzertstück the previous December, and the pair had already given a recital together. The Arpeggione was a work the cellist programmed regularly at a time when others had not fully embraced it into their repertoires. One reason for this is the technical difficulties this work presents. Indeed, Rostropovich underestimated its difficulties when he first brought it to the Aldeburgh Festival without fully knowing the score. Yet, he later made a respectable recording of it with Britten.  |

The Arpeggione has a curious history. Written in 1824 for Vincenz Schuster, an accomplished arpeggione player, the instrument itself was only developed a year before the work’s composition. The brainchild of Johann Georg Staufer, it was a kind of upright six-stringed, fretted guitar that was bowed. Never really catching on, it was extinct by the time the sonata was posthumously published in 1871. What was reasonably achievable on this instrument presents formidable challenges when applied to the cello. This, however, doesn’t appear to be a problem for Feuermann. With finger positions high up on the fingerboard in some of the sections, his high notes sing out with resonant sonority. The fast passages, and there are many, are negotiated with apparent ease and crisp articulation. With impeccable intonation he is never less than rhythmically alert. The balance between the cello and the piano is an improvement on the Beethoven, with the piano emerging from the shadows of the previous session and coming into its own. 

We go back three years to July 1934 for the Brahms Sonata recording. Feuermann only recorded the E minor, the first of Brahms’ two sonatas for cello and piano. His partner here is Theo van der Pas, a Dutch pianist and a name new to me. As with the Beethoven several cuts are made, including the first movement exposition repeat. The performers were obviously limited by the constraints the 78 rpm recording techniques imposed on them at the time. Once again, Feuermann displays formidable insight and musicianship. With flexible bowing he achieves exquisite phasing and projects the lines in such a way that his musical vision is realized. Tempi and dynamics seem just right. He has had criticism from some quarters for having a tendency to rush phrases, but I did not detect any of this.
 
Max Reger composed three solo cello suites. The first in G major is dedicated to the cellist Julius Klengel. Feuermann programmed this suite several times in his recitals, and brought it to the studio in February 1939. Throughout this recording his impeccable intonation is evident. In the first movement, his playing in no way sounds mechanical, but is lovingly phrased. One can detect the influence of J.S. Bach in this movement. In the second movement, the double-stops are richly coloured with his magnificent vibrato. In the finale, Feuermann applies his rich full-blooded tone to Reger’s almost brusque counterpoint.
 
Pristine and Obert-Thorn have a made a judicious choice with the chamber music recordings on this disc. The transfers and restorations have come up very well. I compared them with my EMI Référence CD (CDH 764250) There is marginally less surface noise in the Pristine transfers of the Beethoven and Schubert. The cello sound seems to have been opened out, rendering its timbre more full-bodied. The brief booklet indicates that full programme notes can be found on the Pristine website.
 
These recordings are available as a mono 16-bit FLAC or mono mp3 download or CD.
 
Any lover of great cello playing will want this in their collection. 

Stephen Greenbank 

 


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