The attraction of historic recordings is surely to catch a glimpse of legendary musicianship that is magnificent enough to overcome sonic shortcomings – a document that enriches our understanding of both the instrument and its repertoire. Yet this live, mono recording from the Salzburg Festival of 1959 is a disappointing testament to one of the most highly regarded cellists of the first half of the 20th century. It’s possible that Enrico Mainardi was already past his best at the time of this recital. Certainly the playing in the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata suggests as much. The performance is particularly let down by insecure intonation in the highest registers, and the numerous decorative passages in the outer movements seem lugubrious, with excessive use of rubato.
The Brahms E minor Sonata is similarly heavy-going, with a turgid opening movement and few glimpses of the brilliance that Mainardi once had. Only in the lean and strong tone of Beethoven’s opening Andante do I sense a nobility of phrase that might have once heralded a great player. Clearly Mainardi recordings are in short supply, but unfortunately this is not one to rush out and purchase.