SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Martin Rummel, cello/ Gerda Guttenberg, piano – Musicaphon

The performances are lively, clean, well-thought out, and immaculately played.

Published on November 12, 2007

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Martin Rummel, cello/ Gerda Guttenberg, piano – Musicaphon
BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Martin Rummel, cello/ Gerda Guttenberg, piano – Musicaphon multichannel SACD M 56870 (2 discs), 75:00 & 67:01 ***1/2 [Distr. by Qualiton]:

Martin Rummel is a young cellist who has taken the world somewhat by storm, advocating new music and associating with an impressive roster of fellow musicians and orchestras. His repertory is said to be extensive, and his recording of the etudes by David Popper have made quite a ripple in the recording industry.

So why is I am having difficulty coming to terms with his new album of the Beethoven cello works? They have been recorded quite often, but not so much as a complete set, and so any time a new one pops up it is time to pay close attention. This one being in SACD peaks the interest even more than usual, but I am afraid that the sound may be precisely the problem I am having with this set. It seems as though an inordinately full signal is being sent to the middle speaker, and this is causing a somewhat distorted sonic perspective, at least on my setup. When I first put this on it was quite distracting, and I almost dismissed the set out of hand. After a while my ears adjusted to it, and I was able to concentrate more on the performances. Hearing the set on regular stereo headphones actually helped quite a lot. This should be a lesson to all of us, that SACD is not necessarily a panacea for all of our sonic woes. Bad recordings have been made in stereo, and they certainly can be in SACD as well.

I don’t want to leave the impression that these are “bad”, however. Once I was able to recover myself and give the recording the attention it deserved, I discovered some very fine things about these interpretations. While the two performers are of the “just let Beethoven speak for himself” school (the booklet notes actually quotes Mr. Rummel saying “No interpretation is needed to make this music speak”), something I hear with much amusement as one of the glories of music in general is that it is an interpretative art, his words are hollow in that there is obviously much interpretation going on here. The performances are lively, clean, well-thought out, and immaculately played.

What I don’t hear is the sort of over-the-top playing we get from du Pre’s classic set,  Rostropovich and Richter’s commanding authority, or even Maria Kliegel’s committed and no-nonsense recording on Naxos. At a far cheaper price, newcomers to this music should seek those editions first. For those looking for a second set, this one provides some fervent and stormy music making, and is technically beyond criticism, and as such can be recommended. But if you buy it solely for the sake of the enhanced audio, you might want to think twice.

– Steven Ritter

 




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