replay

Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues
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The Independent Culture
Brahms: Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2;

Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata No 2

Janos Starker (cello), Gyorgy Sebok (piano)

(Recorded: 1962-1964)

(Mercury 434 377 2)

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 22 and 25

Edwin Fischer (piano), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

(Recorded live at the 1946 Salzburg Festival)

(EMI CDH5 66085 2)

Brahms's two cello sonatas are about as different from each other as his four symphonies. The First, in three movements, emerges as subdued, self-absorbed and sweetly songful; the second, in four movements, is heroically emotive, with a poignant slow movement and a turbulent scherzo. And it's my experience that most cellists who excel in the one leave something to be desired in the other. Not, however, Janos Starker, whose third recording of the sonatas (he has made four so far) suggests an introvert with a penchant for musical heroics. Listen to the way he negotiates the First Sonata's opening theme, leaning ever so slightly on the end of the phrase and drawing a refined, keenly attenuated tone from his instrument. The rather languid Allegretto second movement is truly "quasi Menuetto", the highly contrapuntal finale crisp and decisive. The Second Sonata opens to a bold piano backdrop that finds Gyorgy Sebok in fighting form; the second set - big music reminiscent of the Second Piano Concerto - is grandly conveyed, the repeat offered intact. And while most rivals pass on the option of a fill-up, Starker and Sebok offer us one of Mendelssohn's greatest chamber works. Try the elegant Allegretto scherzando with its guitar-like pizzicatos, or the cantorial Adagio with its rolling arpeggio accompaniment. It's wonderful music, stylishly played and cleanly recorded.

Edwin Fischer's live account of the great E flat Concerto might be labelled "Mozart for Wagnerians". For although Fischer himself directs both works from the keyboard, if Wilhelm Furtwangler had been credited as the conductor, no one would have suspected otherwise. The Andante opens Adagio - dark, furrowed, almost Brucknerian, with humble entreaties from the soloist and glowering orchestral responses that anticipate the grave dialogue at the heart of Beethoven's G major Piano Concerto. Trilling strings suggest Biblical defiance (7'31") while that valedictory bassoon at 9'35" spells infinite sadness. A couple of minutes further on, you'll chance upon some of the softest, most exquisitely- voiced Mozart playing ever recorded. The C Major Concerto opens truly Maestoso with powerful, somewhat imprecise full chords and plenty of timpani. Fischer opts for highly-coloured cadenzas; he augments the bass line in the Andante and embellishes No 22's finale (try from 0'38" and quite a few instances thereafter). Here, as before, the sound is dry as dust (the tapes emanate from Austrian radio) and the winds have an acid edge, but whenever Fischer himself enters the picture, all is caprice, spirit and spur-of-the-moment re-creativity. You couldn't imagine a more profoundly authentic manner of music-making.

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