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on 5 November 2012
I had the opportunity to admire Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) as a very refined and gifted pianist listening to the CDs of the BBC series "Britten The Performer" (where you can also find a rare and precious performance in duet with Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) - !!! - accompanying in Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes).

Here (in 1961 - Schumann and Debussy - and in 1968 - Schubert -) the astonishing musicianship of Britten meets the equally astonishing musicianship of his close friend Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007). The result is a marvelous hymn to Music and Musicianship.

Rostropovich is not always, or in every repertoire, my favorite cellist, as Britten is not my favorite composer or performer. Nevertheless, I consider this CD a true gem of inestimable value. Here something magical happens; here Music naturally, flawlessly, effortlessly flows out in all Her strong, but sweet, beauty. Here the miracle occurs and the Goddess is claimed to show Herself unveiled.

Surely the pieces performed are not banal or meaningless - on the contrary! -, but the matter here is not "what" they are playing, but "how" they do it, that is the exemplary basic attitude of the performers towards Music in general and their natural and spontaneous (and, at the same time, cultured and professional) approach to playing.

An exceptionally good original analogic sound and a vivid remastering (96kHz - 24bit in this 2007 and in the previous 1999 reissues, see Schubert: Sonata for Arpeggione (bowed guitar) & Piano, d.821 / Schumann: 5 Pieces in the Popular Style (Volkston), Op. 102 / Debussy: Cello Sonata, improving even further the excellent 1997 remastering, see Plays Cello Sonatas By Britten, Schumann & Debussy, where Britten's sonata substitutes Schubert's one) produce an incredible "presence" effect.

I think you will listen to this CD again and again, every-time renewing your pleasure and deepening your comprehension of the Mistery.
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on 7 June 2010
Magnificent sound. Extraordinary performance, so intimate and introspective.

At first, I chose this CD more properly because of the glorious recording of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata. The execution of this chamber music jewel by Britten & Rostropovitch is simply moving. Throughout their hard work the two masters must have in facts deeply perceived Schubert's unique and sincere ability to explore the human heart, so that they became able to narrowly and magnificently reproduce it in one of its most beautiful expressions.
But after a new listening and a more aware reading from the attached booklet introduction by Graham Johnson, I've recently come to realize how rightful was Britten's opinion about Schumann's late works, just like the beautiful "Funf Stucke im Volkston" - I apologize, I do not have the right German types on my keyboard to write this down. 'Many commentators argue that Schumann's late works reflect a disastrous falling-off of imagination. Britten had no patience with this thesis'. That's exactly what a deep and careful analysis of the five pieces would conclude. Moreover '[...] in other hands the music can sound gauche and disjointed: with these performers it has a rustic simplicity and strenght, and the phrasing unveils delightful humor and playful repartee. These are revelatory performances of problematic pieces which refuse to yield their secrets to many enthusiasts'. I totally agree with Mr. Johnson.
Finally, I'm no actual Debussy connoisseur yet - I'm sorry, amico mio! - but his Cello Sonata sounds quite fine to me.

Such records deserve the honors of masterpieces.
Something to play on and on.
33 comments16 of 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This disc contains recordings made in 1961 (Schumann) and 1968. The actual remastered recorded quality still remains superlative and sounds as if made yesterday. It would be easy to imagine the players to be in the same room, so realistic is the recording. The program illustrates exactly the very special musical relationship that Britten and Rostropovich created between themselves and which, certainly in this instance, is an example of the sum exceeding the individual parts.

Both musicians were outstanding in their own ways of course, Britten as an accomplished pianist and accompanist, and Rostropovich as cellist (and also pianist). What we have here though, is a complete synthesis of musical minds and their instinctive interplay that is really quite special.

The instances where special and mutual insights into each others musical responses and where each is able to totally accommodate the other are simply too numerous to list. They occur almost by the second and result in a continuous stream of inspiration. All three pieces take on a range of expression that defies description and marks these performances as uniquely satisfying. The result is one of live music making at the highest possible level. My only regret is that space for the equally fine performance of Britten's own cello sonata has not been found.

As the heading says, this disc is not so much definitive as unique and marvellous. I would therefore suggest that, whatever other performances purchasers may have of this repertoire on disc, this disc by Britten and Rostropovich certainly deserves very serious consideration as a 'must buy.'
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on 20 July 2012
Beautiful music, very well recorded. A disc I shall listen to often. Really a historic album, but its age is no disadvantage.
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on 22 February 2013
Beautiful music brilliantly played by superlative artists. A lovely selection of Romantic period repertoire. I would recommend this to anyone.
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on 22 May 2013
This CD is worth the money for the Schubert alone, but the whole recording is a gem.performed by two of the best musicians ever.
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the other review omits for me the most interesting + arresting works, namely the Debussy sonata : (along with Shostakovichs sonata) is a classic 20th C work for cello + piano. recordings of the two men performing together are poorly represented on cd and this cd contains recordings made in the 1960s is for me,pretty much definitive. as expected from Rostropovich the cello playing displays the dark toned,powerful fiery playing you would expect from "Slava", but also moments of real finesse and emotional engagment with the music - played by the composer + it dedicatee. the Debussy also is a marvel - one of the first works i truly loved when i first started listening to classical music twenty years ago. its a much underheard work that is deeply expressive, dark + unusual in its form yet still melodic + very moving.

Benjamin Britten + Rostrpovich are marvellous on this cd, but an alternative also try also to dig out Steve Isserlis "French Cello Sonatas" on the virgin label for an equally rewarding reading of the Debussy (along with Poulenc + Franck - yes i know he was Belgian but hey..). Bruno Weinmeister on the budget Arte Nova label is also worth a try for the Debussy, as well as other 20th C works by Webern + Lutoslawski. The Schumann + Schubert also on this cd will appeal to fans of the expressive, deeply melodic late romantic school + are equally rewarding, but the Debussy sonata is the one for me. Sound on this decca cd is a little dry + rough around the edges when compared to modern days releases, but here the sense of history being recorded is tangible. strongly recommended for those wishing to go deeper..

NB - this cd does NOT include the fairly rare + powerful Britten cello sonata - that is included on the Decca "Classic Sound" cd release (amazon ISIN:B0000042G2) of the same recordings made by Rostropovich + Britten,at slightly higher price + well worth the extra outlay.
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on 6 March 2015
Yet another truly fantastic performance by the all time genius Rostropovich!
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on 31 August 2014
Good rendering
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