Notes and Editorial Reviews
The comparison here is between two very mature artists, always taking the broader view, and two very young artists out to extract the maximum from every detail. When reviewing the Barenboims (on HMV) way back in 1968, I remember being enchanted by the sheer beauty and speaking quality of so much in their playing, especially in the F major Sonata, yet sometimes worried by quite so much elasticity in phrasing. Jacqueline du Pré uses more vibrato than Piatigorsky in the interests of expression and her cantabile often comes across with more radiance as a result. Balance is finely judged by the acutely sensitive Barenboim: never does the piano dominate the low-voiced cello. Listening to them anew I felt that this is how Brahms might have
liked to hear both sonatas played on one of his several visits to sunny Italy. Piatigorsky and Rubinstein are by no means tied to the metronome either, but because less concerned with detailed nuance, they convey more of the underlying solidarity of backbone—and perhaps the composer's North German seriousness, too. In the E minor work their slightly faster tempo for the first and last movements helps to suggest a stronger sense of direction. Piatigorsky's tone is very mellow even though less luminous than Jacqueline du Pré's. Rubinstein is marvellously sturdy for one considerably more than double Barenboim's age, but at this point I come to the crux of the matter. I sometimes wondered if he was fully aware of his own sturdiness, since the balance so often goes against the cello. It would make dull reading to cite chapter and verse, though nearly every movement in both works includes an example save the finale of the E minor work, where the counterpoint is finely matched. As so often, it's a roundabouts and swings situation when it comes to making a clear-cut recommendation. The best way out, of course, is to buy both versions.
-- Gramophone [7/1977, comparing the Brahms Cello Sonatas as played by Du Pré and Barenboim with the recording by
Piatigorsky and Rubinstein]
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