Classical Reissue Reviews

Feuermann = BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major; SCHUBERT: Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor; BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor; REGER: Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in G Major – Emanuel Feuermann, c./ Myra Hess, p. (Beethoven)/ Gerald Moore, p. (Schubert) – Pristine Audio

Pristine and Mark Obert-Thorn assemble a broad chamber music program by the inimitable master cellist Emanuel Feuermann, whose premature death Toscanini called “murder.”

Published on July 7, 2013

Feuermann = BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major; SCHUBERT: Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor; BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor; REGER: Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in G Major – Emanuel Feuermann, c./ Myra Hess, p. (Beethoven)/ Gerald Moore, p. (Schubert) – Pristine Audio

Feuermann = BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69; SCHUBERT: Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor, D. 821; BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38; REGER: Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in G Major, Op. 131c, No. 1 – Emanuel Feuermann, cello/ Myra Hess, p. (Beethoven)/ Gerald Moore, p. (Schubert)/ Theo van der Pas (Brahms) – Pristine Audio PACM 086, 72:59 [avail. in various formats at] ****:

“With the advent of Emanuel Feuermann, the age of modern cello playing was born.” These fateful words from cello virtuoso Janos Starker well express the impact of legendary cellist Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942), since Feuermann eschewed the romantic tendencies and Nineteenth Century style embodied in his own idol of the cello, Pablo Casals. Producer and restoration editor Mark Obert-Thorn resuscitates “under one roof” several disparate sessions recorded 1934-1939 that appeared (the Beethoven and Schubert, for instance) for EMI (7 64250 2), c. 1992.  Various pupils of Feuermann – Trepel, Soyer, Greenhouse – spoke of the intellectual, passionate acuity of Feuermann’s approach to the scores he prepared for performance. Feuermann’s untimely death from a botched surgical procedure robbed lovers of great artistry of an innately gifted artist of the first rank, who at age 40 had barely begun to make his mark on musical history.

The Beethoven A Major Sonata (1808) with Myra Hess (rec. 28-29 June 1937) opens the recital; a time-tested performance of immense singing power, especially in Feuermann’s high register, his virtuoso calling-card. The keyboard part remains relatively subdued, but the cello resonance and sprezzitura sweeps us away. Self-effacing subtlety and lyricism provide the rubric for this realization, as even the A Minor Scherzo retains an impish suaveness whose comfortable flamboyance does not become self-serving.  The Adagio cantabile achieves that deep simplicity that forms the mystery of great art; and suddenly, serving as it does as a “mere” prelude to the exuberant Allegro vivace, disappears into eternity.  The fluidity of Feuermann’s elastic melodic line in the last movement hints at what his Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations might have bequeathed us.

From virtually the same recording session (29-30 June 1937) at EMI, Feuermann and master accompanist Gerald Moore combine for the uniquely vocal 1824 Arpeggione Sonata of Franz Schubert, a piece for a special, six-string bowed guitar whose top string lifted us a fifth higher than the modern cello. In the middle of the first movement Allegro moderato Moore has his own moment of lovely legato playing. Feuermann’s playing turns every melodic phrase into an aria held with taut poise. The transition to the recapitulation must serve as a model for any advocate of this composition. Moore’s playing in the Adagio meets that of Feuermann on its own, ethereal terms for a sublimely poignant song. The last movement enjoys a richly vibrant tone and sense of spontaneity in both instrumentalists, combined with Schubert’s limitless fund of laendler-like melodies. Occasionally, Feuermann will linger over a cadence, almost a smiling and gentle parody of the Old School. Feuermann’s pizzicati against Moore’s alla musette sonority makes for incomparable Schubert.  No matter how often we hear this rendition, it ends too quickly.

The recording of the 1865 Brahms E Minor Sonata (10-11 July 1934) from Abbey Road provides the earliest of the Feuermann inscriptions, here assisted by Theo van de Pas, who occasionally accompanied Casals. Feuermann embraces much of the sonata’s liturgical gloomy cast, the first movement Allegro non troppo’s sharing sensibilities with its contemporary work, Eine deutsches Requiem. Feuermann can exploit the extreme of his instrument’s registers, especially its rich bass tones. The studio sound of the keyboard is not particularly resonant, a pity since Brahms gives the piano huge and somber chords or delicate tracery that adumbrates his later keyboard writing for the violin sonatas. The later pages build up a sweet tension that once more culminates in the dynamic main theme.  The second movement resorts to the Brahms penchant for antiquity, an Allegretto quasi menuetto that manages to impart a Romantic ardor and delicacy of feeling. Feuermann and Theo van der Pas bring a Viennese lilt to the proceedings, a high polish and stately lyricism. The Trio section proffers a searching anguish quite dear to those who favor Brahms. The Allegro finale is based on a revision of the original plan, since Brahms wished to incorporate Bach counterpoint into his work, here become rather bravura in character. Feuermann can project a basso profundo sonority when he desires it, and the contrast with the upper register work and bariolage proves seamlessly impressive. Shirley Trepel recalled in a recent interview how merciless and sarcastic Feuermann could be when reading through this and other works with his pupils: “He made it look so effortless, and all the phrases would breathe,” she lamented.

Reger’s Cello Suite in G makes no apology for its being a Bach piece: set as a Praeludium, Adagio and Fuge, it would appear to demand the cello serve the function of an organ. Feuermann (7 February 1939) has no trouble in maintaining the various contrapuntal lines, including a sweeping, arching line and poignant, passing dissonances. The monster Adagio demands a huge, unbroken musical line, meditative and exalted. That Reger tries to imitate Bach’s passion in a chorale-prelude seems obvious. If you look at the cover art to this disc, you can note the superior extension of Feuermann’s left-hand ring finger that makes for those seamless grumbling trills. The spirited Fuge moves with a grim purpose, though not without its singing moments. The cleanliness of Feuermann’s attacks and landings will astound even seasoned cello veterans. Toscanini asserted that such an artist as Feuermann comes along perhaps once in a hundred years.

But lest we wax lugubrious – given the Reger style – let’s end with a quick Bernard Greenhouse anecdote about Feuermann: Greenhouse, a bit of a bon vivant in his youth, had purchased a red sports car which he drove to Feuermann’s house for their appointed lesson. Feuermann was already outside the door as Greenhouse pulled up: “No lesson today, kid; we are going for a drive. That’s car’s hot!”

—Gary Lemco

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