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Leslie Parnas began taking music lessons at the age of five and took up the cello at eight; when he entered the Curtis Institute at sixteen to study with Gregor Piatigorsky he had already played with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra for two years. Nevertheless, it was not until he was in his mid-twenties that his true qualities emerged at the Paris International Cello Competition. John Barbirolli, himself a cellist, recalled that Parnas showed an interest in the Elgar Concerto (which was still little-known in the USA) and learnt it with remarkable speed, in Barbirolli’s opinion outshining many other cellists. Pablo Casals was also very impressed by Parnas and engaged him at his Prades and Puerto Rico Festivals. His 1957 Paris Competition win and later successes boosted his solo profile, leading to extensive tours of the USA, South America, Europe, and the USSR. For a 1976 tour Parnas and his wife learnt Russian and treated the trip as a way of improving US–Soviet relations.

Rather in the manner of Casals, Parnas is often audible beyond his cello-playing on record, especially when emitting expressive groans; but this scarcely takes away from his secure and authoritative performances which reveal a strong interpreter in the modern mould. As heard in the 1992 Porpora and 1995 Haydn items here, he makes no discernible concessions towards period performance; the clarity of his tone nonetheless avoids unwanted muddiness in these eighteenth-century works. In nineteenth- and twentieth-century repertory Parnas’s approach is perhaps stylistically more rewarding. There is a richly-toned and impassioned Brahms Op. 38 Sonata (1995), in which his commitment overrides the very wide vibrato and rather leaden tempo of the opening that are typical of his generation of performers. The Dohnányi (1992) and Shostakovich (1990) performances are direct in their communication, even though the steady speeds and somewhat heavy delivery of accompanying passagework are rather idiosyncratic. The Shostakovich contains some exemplary bounced-bow technique in the second movement.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Role: Classical Artist 
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