Sunday, 15 July 2012

Alfred Cortot and Jacques Thibaud

There must have been many great piano trio ensembles throughout recent history. But, in the much of the piano trio repertoire, none better – in my view – than Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals. A long friendship broken apart, alas, by the Second World War and the occupation of France by the Germans. The Swiss Cortot, the French Thibaud and the Catalan Casals became irreconcilable thereafter. Our great loss. Happily, for us, recordings remain pror to the 1939 cataclysm.

This evening I revelled in recordings by just two members of the trio: Cortot and Thibaud playing the Franck sonata in 1929, the first Fauré sonata (1927) and the Debussy sonata (1929). I was struck by: a) the music (they don't write violin and piano music like this any more) b) the pianism of Cortot and the violin playing of Thibaud c) the recording and recorded balance of the original recordings d) the transfers from 78s (Pristine Audio). Quite frankly, surveying over 80 years of recordings of these pieces, I cannot off-hand recall better versions of any three of these admirable sonatas. High praise for Cortot and Thibaud; an indictment of the years post-1940 where so much that was expert-class chamber music playing between friends became commercialised. And high praise for the recording industry of that time, not yet obsessed with pretty girls or macho males. When Cortot and Thibaud played together here, there is no question as to who is “the star”; this is music-making between world-class musicians and close friends.

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