Feature LP Review – Beethoven|Cello Sonatas|Mainardi|Zecchi; Milstein Recital|Bussotti; Leonard-Morgan|American Dharma

Written by: Rob Pennock

Beethoven – The Cello Sonatas; Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe’ from Die Zauberflöte, WoO.46

Enrico Mainardi (cello) & Carlo Zecchi (piano)

Recorded at the Beethovensaal, Hanover in October 1955 and May 1956
Analogphonic 3 x 180gm mono LP boxed set: LP43153

Milstein Recital
Gallo – Trio Sonata No.12 in E major (attributed Pergolesi; transcribed Alessandro Longo)
Schumann & Brahms – Intermezzo in F & Allegro in C minor from composite F.A.E Sonata written for Joseph Joachim
Suk – 4 Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.17 – IV: Burleska
Bloch – Baal shem – Nigun; Three Pictures of Hassidic Life for Violin and Piano
Milstein – Paganiniana – Variations for unaccompanied violin

Nathan Milstein (violin) & Carlo Bussotti (piano)

Recorded at Capitol Studio A, New York in December 1953 & January 1954
Analogphonic 180gm LP: LP43090

Paul Leonard-Morgan – American Dharma [film soundtrack]

Ross Hamilton & Rupert Coulson (guitars) & Dylan Gentile (vocals)

Recorded at Capitol and Palm Studios, Los Angeles
2 x 180gm LPs available from Light in the Attic Records

Enrico Mainardi and Nathan Milstein are Analogphonic favourite, and here the former essays the world’s greatest cello sonatas with the virtually forgotten Carlo Zecchi. The first Sonata (opus 5/1) combines forward movement and rhythmic subtlety with singing lines in a genuine partnership of equals. In the Second (opus 5/2), Mainardi’s intonation can be awry, his phrasing and attack more circumspect, and, while the Third (opus 69) is very good, it lacks Pierre Fournier and Friedrich Gulda’s (HDTT) flair and command. The two late Sonatas (opus 102) elicit a deeper response. Indeed, in their hands, the C-major Sonata could be entitled quasi una fantasia, the changes of mood and tempo in the D-major are expertly integrated, and Zecchi is always Mainardi’s equal, although Fournier’s magisterial eloquence is even more compelling.

The sound is very good with plenty of bass, a sweet treble. Very unusually for that era Mainardi is only slightly favoured in terms of internal balance, and the acoustic of the Beethovensaal, Hanover, is well-captured.  If you wanted the three original LPs they cost around £1,750 or more for complete sets, and don’t come in the beautiful box Analogphonic provide. Having compared a first label LPM 18354 (Op.102 Sonatas) with the new discs the latter are fuller toned and more defined.      

Turning to Milstein on this 1953/4 recital he offers a typical mixture of Baroque through to modern played with considerable depth of feeling in the Bloch, quiet elegance and effortless virtuosity. Sound-wise he dominates the image, both instruments have plenty of body and his unique timbre is well-caught within a middle-distance balance. Compared to an original LP the new one has a better dynamic range and is cleaner sounding, and you don’t have to worry about condition or availability.

The Scottish composer Paul Leonard-Morgan is highly thought of by the industry and film-goers. However, in Errol Morris’s American Dharma the director ineffectually interviews the American far-right ideologue Steve Bannon about his time as Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign manager and the like, so there is no story-line to build a musical narrative around, which causes Leonard-Morgan problems.

His compositional style fuses electronica with orchestra, and here he occasionally uses a throbbing heavy bass-line and several guitars. The short tracks often feature slow, minor-key influenced motor rhythms in common-time, where the two octaves either side of middle C predominate. Several are outstanding – American Dharma and Fear of the Unknown bring to mind, without any sense of copying, John Adams’s later works, while Falstaff and A Revolution is Coming merge to create a beautifully reverberant soundscape, initially with echoes of Game of Thrones – but there is also, devoid of visual and verbal pointers, a sense of aimlessness and it is difficult to see this as absolute music.

DVD soundtracks are recorded in 24/48 and I was sent downloads in this format along with the LPs. Unfortunately, commercially you can only get the album in 16/44.1 CD quality, which is no more than adequate and completely outclassed by the LPs, which have far more space, a clearer sense of distance and perspective, instrumental and synthetic timbres are more realistic

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