BEETHOVEN: Trio No. 7 in B flat, Op. 97 "Archduke." Sonata No. 9 in A minor, Op. 47 "Kreutzer." Variations for Cello and Piano in F on "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen," Op. 66.
Jacques Thibaud, violin; Pablo Casals, cello Alfred Cortot, piano
NAXOS 8.110195 (B) (ADD) TT: 71 min.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C, OP. 56 "Triple Concerto."
Marguerite Long, piano (Concerto No. 3); Angelica Morales, piano; Ricardo Odnoposoff, violin; Stefan Auber, cello; Vienna Philharmonic Orch (Concerto No. 3); Paris Conservatory Orch/Felix Weingartner, cond.
NAXOS 8.110878 (B) (ADD) TT: 69 min.

Both of these additions to Naxos’ historic Beethoven treasures are further validations of Mark Obert-Thorn’s crown-princely status in the realm of remastering – astonishing in the case of the “Archduke” Trio, which was recorded on three days in November-December 1928 in the Queen’s Small Hall, London. Until the high-powered Heifetz-Rubinstein-Feuermann version of 1949 for RCA Victor, this eloquently musical performance by Jacques Thibaud, Alfred Cortot and Pablo (né Pau) Casals was the version to own despite its age. But it has taken Obert-Thorn’s painstaking restoration, using “five Victor ‘Z’ pressing albums,” to bring it to life as never before, given the seven-league strides – make that 70-league strides – in playback equipment.

I learned the “Archduke” (love at first listen) from Victor’s “million-dollar trio,” but sought out Cutner Solomon’s version in the CD era with Henry Holst and Anthony Pini which Walter Legge originally produced in 1943 for HMV, on an Appian disc remastered by Brian Crimp. Despite a 15-year age difference, that later one now sounds older and sometimes muddy compared to the Naxos. Angel issued an abominable transfer of Thibaud-Cortot-Casals on Seraphim, its budget-LP label, but how abominable I never realized until Obert-Thorn’s prestidigitation. The Casals-Cortot Variations on “Bei Männern” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute is as suave a performance as that music is likely ever to get, and while M.O-T. calls the 1927 recording “murkier” – from the large auditorium of Queen’s Hall – he has come up with a treasurable memento using “pre-war U.S. Victor ‘Gold’ label pressings.” But M.O-T. is most pleased with the 1929 “Kreutzer” Sonata recorded in Paris by Thibaud and Cortot, because he had access to a “set of vinyl test pressings... [with] a great deal of presence and immediacy” that “did not require much filtering.” The reading is in a class apart from its discmates but still classy, you’ll pardon the word-play, but equalled or surpassed by other players, some younger. Consider it a bonus: the “Archduke” reigns here.

Felix Weingartner’s 1937 version of the Triple Concerto, so-called, was the sole prewar-2 version, notable for his conducting and the Vienna Philharmonic’s spit-and-polish response rather than the soloists (violinist Odnoposoff was the only one who had a minor career stateside; I heard him in Chicago and it was not a happy afternoon). But until Bruno Walter made it for Columbia ca. 1945 with the New York Philharmonic, there was no competition. That postwar version was notable for Walter Hendl’s pianism and Leonard Rose’s cello-playing – both were staff members of the NYP – but concertmaster John Corigliano, the father of composer John, was no more adept than his Viennese counterpart. Walter, however, came from the Weingartner tradition and the recording on a 10-inch LP was markedly superior to Columbia’s 78-pressing of its predecessor. For Weingartner collectors, Naxos is commended if not recommended over others since – but not a trio of Soviet stars on DGG under the adipose direction of Herbert von Karajan.

As for the Beethoven C minor Concerto, it is a 1939 curiosity that was issued only in France, and perhaps as well – Marguerite Long gave a volatile but lightweight performance somewhere between Mozart and the G-major Concerto Ravel dedicated to her. Unforgivably, she played an endless, musically trivial cadenza in the first movement by Ignatz Moscheles. As for the Paris Orchestra, deputies must have either rehearsed or recorded – a prewar quirk in French music-making – because not even Weingartner could make them play in tune, in consort, or with nuance. It is an outline-performance that might better have remained in French Columbia’s catacombs.

R.D. (June 2004)