24 May 2024

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Pierre Fournier – the noble cellist

“Fournier is on superb form; […] This is Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic at their most compelling.”
classical-music.com in February 2021 about “Don Quixote”

No Dvořák? No Tchaikovsky? No Triple Concerto? No, but it seems that Karajan enjoyed the collaboration with the great French cellist Pierre Fournier so much that he performed cello concertos exclusively with him – Schumann and Saint-Saëns’ 1st. The other two works in their repertoire were both cello staples and Karajan favourites. Between 1959 and 1965 he joined Fournier 6 times for Brahms’ Double Concerto and 5 times for Strauss’ “Don Quixote”. Their first “Don Quixote” was in Lucerne and in the first half of the concert featured Glenn Gould playing a Bach concerto at his last ever concert in Europe (see here for a photo of Gould and Fournier after the concert). Apart from a Salzburg Festival live recording with Rudolf Streng on the viola and the Vienna Philharmonic, the 1965 studio recording of “Don Quixote” with the Berlin Philharmonic and Giusto Cappone is the only testimonial of Karajan’s and Fournier’s collaboration. It has lost none of its cult status to this day. Hugo Shirley wrote in Gramophone in 2022:

“Big, generous and lustrous, it’s a recording whose classic status is easy to understand. Karajan’s instinctive command of the score is allied to a wonderful sonic richness from both orchestra and cellist.”

Fournier was obviously in a position to talk to Karajan about delicate topics. His son Jean reports: “Once my father said to Karajan (in 1961 or 1962) that it was a shame (he never minced words) that [Friedrich] Gulda had never appeared with him in Salzburg, Berlin or Vienna. Karajan replied: ‘I know, Pierre, that you take Gulda’s part. I respect that, but once in Vienna, while we were rehearsing the Beethoven C minor Concerto, he behaved to me in a way that I shall never accept from any soloist, however great he is.’ My father replied, ‘Herbert, that’s a real pity, and in this particular case it’s your loss.’”

Reinhard Beuth (Translation Mary Whittall) in the booklet “Beethoven – Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Pierre Fournier, Friedrich Gulda”, Deutsche Grammophon, 2019

Stay Informed