In track and field athletics, you may sometimes catch an athlete who is absolutely at the top of his or her form. Their bodies typically don't have even an ounce of extra fat, and it is perhaps only when you finally see that athlete in motion on the field that you understand exactly what incredible physical prowess they actually possess. The two performers in this recording come to the music, trailing banners of accolades from past hurrahs. The pianist Jean Saulnier is a past winner of very difficult piano competitions such as the William Kapell and the Leschitizky. The cellist Yegor Dyachkov was chosen as one of only two graduate students by the legendary Boris Pergamenshikov during a special year of study in Cologne, Germany. Mr. Dyachkov has also won the challenging Orford Competition. On the other hand: so what? These days the classical recording companies seem hell-bent on deluging us with such prize-winners in the flashiest repertoire possible. But when we listen to their recordings, we only discover that beating out a class of gifted others in this or that moment will always take a distant back place to having lived with the music until it seems to merge with you as a musician. In the most memorable music we get to hear played, somehow the composer's notes seem to have merged with a performer's physical gifts and temperament. In the very greatest, we cannot escape sensing something ethereal, intangible, that we usually talk about by using words like soulful or spiritual. It was a very, very great pleasure, then ... one which I have repeated on weekends for quite a while ... to hear that this CD recording of Brahms cellos sonatas is the real deal. It reveals so many superb facets of the music, the performers, and the recording engineer's invisible arts that it is really something you can play again and again without tiring. First off, the cello playing is at such a high level of technique and musicianship that I bet when you listen you will find yourself wishing that you had taken time to study the cello, way back when. Compared to the famous Mr. Rostropovich, Mr. Dyachkov favors a leaner, and ever more subtly inflected cello sound. His tone varies from a whisper to a full-throated singing quality. He wisely does not try to disguise the fact that a string instrument is primarily a lyrical or legato-phrasing instrument. But within what would otherwise be a nagging musical restriction, he opens into so many different ways of phrasing, and moving the music along, that you can completely forget thinking that cello sonatas are a big bore for everybody who is not a cello student or cello player. Mr. Saulnier, too, lets the musical line and texture surge and sing and give off sparks. The remarkable unanimity of their playing is quite special. Even duos that have played together for a long time, do not so consistently achieve such a single-minded, heartfelt purpose in their music. I searched the booklet notes for hints about the particular cello and piano being played in this recording, but alas, no information was given. My guess is that each instrument is far above average, with the cello perhaps being one of those golden-age beauties that only yields to the wiles of a master musician. In addition to the two opus-numbered cello sonatas (38, and 99, respectively), Mr Dyachkov and Mr Saulnier also give us the cello transcription of Brahm's violin sonatas (Opus 78, in G major). While I have been rather cool to this transcription in the past, this recording is forcing me ... in the nicest, friendliest, gentlest way possible ... to reconsider my former opinions. Now should we fail to give Kudos to the recording engineer. It is difficult to balance a single cello with a piano, period. Hence the extraordinary, ever alert intertwining that the performers have achieved is something very special. But their success would have been for nothing, if the recording engineer had not been able to capture it so well. His art is truly invisible here. That's just as it should be. Only as you listen on repeated occasions can you understand in passing how excellently the recording engineer was able to get the soundstage just right for these two, unusually capable musicians. The duo is situated in a hall, clearly, but not so far back as to result in that boomy, echo-laden effect heard in some recordings of chamber music. A colleague of mine always complained about one label in particular because he said their recordings always sounded like they had been done in old dormitory shower rooms, echo upon echo. Here, each instrument is miked closely enough that you can hear completely what each performer is doing, and !Que miraglo! - what they are doing, together. But the individuality of each instrument never endangers the blend and dynamic interplay between them. While the players must have settled this challenge of musical balance in the first place, a poor recording could have easily shredded or failed to capture their delicate, sensual, passionate playing. If you are looking for a place to get going with chamber music, maybe this disc is the opening into a musical Elysian Fields that will let you begin. If you are a settled, experienced fan of chamber music, then this disc will entrance you thoroughly. It is about Brahms music, first and foremost. I confess to feeling a bit of both sides. Since I love Brahms, I have long enjoyed his cello sonatas. However, only after upgrading my home theater system to five full-range speakers, with higher quality electronics, did I re-experience again how much narrative depth and tonal richness chamber music can express. I would award this recording a chamber music Grammy or Recording of the Year status, if I were a member of the relevant academies. It's that good, really. If I were a manager of a local performance series, I would think how I could book these people into my coming cycle(s). Over and over, this performance satisfies ear, mind, heart ... and yes, even some human part inside that the ancients preferred to call, Soul. Five stars? Six would be better for this one!