Pierre Fournier / Franz Holetschek

Brahms, Kodály, Debussy: Cello Sonatas; Tschaikowsky: Rococo Variations

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Founded in 1920, the Salzburg Festival has long been a venue for the debut of remarkable talent and the showcasing of established masters. Although the festival had been broadcasting on radio since 1925, recordings of some of these legendary performances were difficult to come by. Finally, in the 1990s, the festival began restoring some of its more historical performances and releasing them on the Orfeo label. Today, an impressive array of these concerts is available. The present installment features a relative latecomer to the festival -- cellist Pierre Fournier -- who did not appear until 1958. Fournier more than made up for his years of absence with this remarkably demanding, varied program. Although he was said to have just gotten over being ill, no trace of weakness or trepidation can be heard in his enthusiastic, riveting performance of the Brahms F major Sonata. This is immediately followed by the Kodály Op. 8 Solo Sonata, perhaps the most difficult of its kind in the repertoire. Though Fournier is not primarily known as a technician, his execution here rivals the legendary recording of Janos Starker. The program continues with a velvety, sensual reading of the Debussy sonata with pianist Franz Holetschek and concludes with a completely enthralling, technically sparkling reading of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations. Orfeo's restored sound is rather quiet, but once you get the volume up to a high enough level, Fournier's clear, noble sound comes through with minimal hiss or distortion.

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