Gregor Piatagorsky, cello = MENDELSSOHN: Cello Sonata No. 2 in D Major; CHOPIN: Cello Sonata in G Minor; R. STRAUSS: Cello Sonata in F Major – Gregor Piatagorsky, cello/Leonard Pennario, piano/Rudolf Firkusny, piano (Chopin) – Testament

by | Jun 19, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Gregor Piatagorsky, cello = MENDELSSOHN: Cello Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 58; CHOPIN: Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65; R. STRAUSS: Cello Sonata in F Major, Op. 6 – Gregor Piatagorsky, cello/Leonard Pennario, piano/Rudolf Firkusny, piano (Chopin)

Testament SBT 1419, 73:11  (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ****:

Among the gentle giants of music stood cellist Gregor Piatagorsky (1903-1976), who could claim, besides a brilliant solo career, having played first cello for Furtwaengler’s Berlin Philharmonic. As part of his American venue, Piatagorsky teamed with Heifetz and Rubinstein to become the “million dollar trio”; then he organized with Heifetz a West-coast series of chamber music concerts and recordings that still stands justly famous.  In an interview, Leonard Pennario (b. 1924) told me that Sony has an unissued recording of the Brahms C Major Trio with him, Heifetz and Piatagorsky.

The Testament release is culled from several RCA recordings, the Mendelssohn having been taped 15-19 November 1965 at the American Legion Hall, Hollywood, California.
Piatagorsky confronts Mendelssohn head on, with a directness of attack and arched, lyrical phrasing that converts the entire piece in to an extended Song Without Words. Along with Emanuel Feuermann, Piatagorsky sported one of the colossal cello tones, a sumptuous sound to complement his football player’s physical girth. The big pedal tone Piatagorsky plies near the end of the Adagio weighs ten tons. That Piatagorsky could negotiate fast and furious passagework becomes duly evident in the second and last movements, the latter of which has him and Pennario dueling in alternate cascades of sound. Rife with easy, brilliant charm and a debonair spirit, the performance breezes by–perhaps “May Breezes” would be more apt–a “testament” to the polished, liquid bravura of all principals.

The Chopin Sonata (21-22 July 1965) has Piatagorsky teamed with Rudolf Firkusny (1912-1994), who had partnered with Pierre Fournier and knew well the cello literature. One of Chopin’s last completed works of any length, the Cello Sonata (1847) proves idiomatic for both instruments–it was conceived for August Franchomme and the composer–with Firkusny’s playing mezzo voce, allowing Piatagorsky his musings and occasional florid orisons. Firkusny’s part plays like a combination etude and one of the late nocturnes from Op. 62, although the filigree can flare up into a version of the B minor Sonata.  Piatagorsky glides easily over the colorful canvas of the Scherzo, and its lovely cantilena middle section is all swan-song. A melancholy, intimate Largo. His brittle writing for the keyboard in the Finale flutters and declaims while Piatagorsky can trill and display his double-stops like a strutting peacock. At moments, the two soli double each other, then echo, occasionally separating for instances of polyphony, only for the texture to become parlando or accompanied recitative. A rich brew, passionately played but within a rarified, tasteful set of aesthetic parameters.

The Strauss Sonata (1883) betrays the energies and follies of youth, having been written for  Hanus Wihan. This inscription with Pennario (28 September 1966) comes from Webster Hall,  New York City. The hectic energy of the first movement Allegro con brio shares several motifs with the D Minor Burleske for Piano and Orchestra. Even structurally, the music stops and starts rather choppily, the piano flashing by as the cello makes large, obligatory gestures, often from its lowest register. The piano instigates a fugal sequence that intensifies then returns us to the opening, blustery materials for the recap and thrilling coda.  The Andante owes much to the Brahms song-style, and we recall that Piatagorsky set the Brahms sonatas down for posterity with Artur Rubinstein. The happy finale pays homage to Mendelssohn’s elfin antics, with an occasional aria tossed off to keep the hunt motif buoyant. While none of this music runs particularly deep, the musical means remain stylish and virtuosic enough to keep the art of Gregor Piatagorsky fondly in our hearts.

–Gary Lemco


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