Piatigorsky’s giant personality and warm-hearted playing are unmistakable
Barber’s Cello Concerto (New Symphony Orchestra/Barber)
When I first heard Zara perform live, at Maida Vale Studio One in 1967, I was so overwhelmed by her sound and presence that I decided to become a professional cellist too. Her incomparable tone and stunning virtuosity are at their very best in this benchmark Decca recording of the Barber Concerto, which is conducted by the composer.
Schumann’s Cello Concerto (London Philharmonic Orchestra /Barbirolli)
This 1934 recording for Pearl is a marvel, not least since it was famously set down in one take. Piatigorsky’s giant personality and warm-hearted playing are unmistakable. I studied this concerto with him during my time at the University of Southern California (USC) from 1973–5, and he helped me to develop the singing qualities needed to play the piece, and to build the virtuosity it demands.
‘Es ist vollbracht’ from Bach’s St John Passion
This recording from 1941, in which Mayes accompanies the US contralto Marian Anderson, is one of the most expressive moments of recorded cello sound. When I met Mayes in the late 1980s I told him so, and he said: ‘I turned up at the studio and the music was on the stand. I had ten minutes to warm up, and I just played it.’ That story just made it even more amazing, because it sounds like the product of so much thought and practice.
My father played the piano like a string player, and this 1975 recording is the perfect showcase for that uniquely lyrical – and immediately recognisable – touch, as well as for his profound insight, musicianship and virtuosity. This performance is a great testament to his dedication to British music.
Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto (Boston Symphony Orchestra/Münch)
I was lucky enough to play chamber music with Heifetz during my time at USC, and his complete artistry was an extraordinary experience. The white heat of his sound especially suits this concerto, and its first movement in particular. The technical brilliance is a given, but it is the flexible poetry in his playing, the nuance and colour that electrify.
Photo: Benjamin Ealovega