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Vinyl Review: Brahms – Sonatas for Cello and Piano Nos. 1 & 2, Janos Starker, György Sebök (Speakers Corner 180g)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sound: 9.0
Pressing/Packaging: 9.8
Value: 9.9

Speakers Corner reissue released in 2007. 180g vinyl. Catalog Number: Mercury SR90392. UPC: 4260019712714. MSRP: $35. Buy on Amazon.com

Original first US edition released by Mercury in 1964. RFR-4/RFR-2 stampers. Catalog Number: SR 90392. Recording: June 1964 at Watford Town Hall, London, by C.R. Fine and Robert Eberenz. Production: Harold Lawrence

Johannes Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano No. 1 in E minor, op. 38 and No. 2 in F major, op. 99 – Janos Starker (cello) & György Sebök (piano)

Introduction

As per our review philosophy, we focus reviews here on sound quality only. However, it should be said that Janos Starker is considered by many to be one of the best cellists of the recorded era. Both players on this disc, actually, are in top form, and both seem to have been born to play these Brahms pieces.

Sound: 9.0

This is simply a beautiful recording of a master playing his instrument with utter confidence and overwhelming grace. Starker’s famous Bach suites, also reissued by Speakers Corner, get most of the attention–and deservedly so. They are sublime, and the sound quality of that reissue is astounding. However, listening to solo cello is not always enough to satisfy. The interplay of piano and cello adds a dimension that engages the mind more thoroughly. I find myself reaching for it more often.

The problem with a lot of cello and piano recordings is the sound of the piano. Pinched, diffuse, distant, boxed, lumpy–you name it. It’s always something! This is where the Speakers Corner murders the original. The piano sound on the reissue is not perfect (very few records have even very good piano sound), but it is much better than the original. It has more body and more harmonic richness.

How does the cello sound? Very, very good. Excellent, for the most part. It is a little thinner on the reissue, though, but I don’t mind given the superior piano. For some, this slightly lesser-bodied cello sound might be a deal-breaker. But it still has good grunt in the very lowest registers–more than the original, in fact. So it’s a trade-off. As a bonus, the reissue has better air and sense of space. Sadly, both have a touch of ambient noise in the form of very low level rumble, which is surely on the tape. Similar to one of the Bach suites, a track or two here include this minor distraction.

(See reference system for context on sound evaluation.)

Pressing/Packaging: 9.8

Stunning pressing quality! Perfectly flat and very nearly perfectly centered. Weight measured 199g. Surface is exceptionally clean and silent. Glossy cover on high quality card stock. My only gripe? The fonts used don’t 100% match the original. This is so subtle I hesitate to mention it, but that’s why they pay me the big bucks. Leave it to me to find at least something wrong with a masterpiece such as this!

Value: 9.9

Unless you are a collector more than a music lover, leave the originals on eBay, and buy this now before it goes out of print.

Speakers Corner reissue LP on Amazon.com:

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Harold February 9, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Just comparing what I thought was the S/C reissue with a CD version. Turns out that the Warner/Apex CD I have is a French recording from about five years earlier. To my ears the two interpretations are almost indistinguishable; the London version is apparently slightly faster. At any rate the CD is excellent with the cello piano balance as you describe for the S/C.

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