Sonatas by Bridge, Britten and Bax
Johannes Moser, Cello
Paul Rivinius, Piano
by Richard R. Adams
This is the sort of release that I find very reassuring as it
features an internationally renowned instrumentalist recording three
English cello works; two of which are rarely played outside the UK
and here theyíre performed with a level of sensitivity and
understanding that youíd expect from someone with a long association
with this music although I doubt that is the case here.
Benjamin Britten is an
internationally known composer but Bax and Bridge remain fringe
figures outside of England but this disc suggests their status may
be changing and I have no doubt this recording will introduce their
music to an ever-growing audience.
A quick review of Johannes MoserĎs recorded repertoire reveals he is
an extremely adventurous musician. Moserís
CD programs often feature a well known composer such as Shostakovich
or Brahms and then supplement the main work with related but lesser
known fare by composers such as Boris Tchaikovsky and
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (as on the
Shostakovich disc). This
new recording is arranged similarly in that it features the well
known Britten Cello Sonata and then groups it with the lesser known
Bridge Sonata and the rarely-heard Bax Legend-Sonata.
It makes sense to couple the Bridge and Britten Sonatas as
the two composers are so closely identified but including the Bax is
a real coup as there are several great British cello sonatas that
Moser could have chosen including the masterly Moeran sonata, which
may just be the finest of all.
Iím not sure how Moser came to Bax but I hope he continues to
explore this repertory as Iíd love to hear what an impassioned
account he could give of the Rhapsodic Ballad or the delightful
Folk-Tale for cello and piano.
The disc begins with Bridgeís two-movement Cello Sonata, which the
composer started before the onset of WW I and finished a few years
into the war in 1917. It was
premiered in the USA in 1923 and it remains a benchmark work as itís
here that we see the first signs of the more European-influenced and
inward-looking composer whom Bridge was to become after the war
ended. Bridge was a
committed pacifist and he was traumatized by the loss of so many
friends as well as the millions of soldiers and civilians who died
during the First World War.
The second movement of his Cello Sonata was his first
response to the carnage and it sounds as though heís been overtaken
by a nightmare that he is aware cannot end.
Itís a tumultuous work and requires playing by both cellist
and pianist that is fully sympathetic to both the romantic as well
as despairing moods of the work and in this regard Moser and pianist
Paul Rivinius are perfect.
Rostropovich and Britten provide an urgency that is unique to
their relationship but Moserís playing is just as deeply felt and is
perhaps more subtle and restrained.
Hearing Moser in this works makes me long to hear what heíd
do with Bridgeís ultimate masterpiece, the tragic Oration for Cello
and Orchestra and I hope he adds it to his repertory.
The amazingly inventive and haunting Cello Sonata by Britten follows
and itís played
with all the technical brilliance and control thatís required of
this astounding piece.
This work has been recorded numerous times but Iíve only heard the
Rostropovich and again it has special status given the composerís
involvement but this new Hanssler recording is just as successful
and the recording is, if anything, even more natural and lifelike
than the classic Decca from the late 1960s.
Those interested in the Bridge and Bax will surely be well
served by having this great new recording of the Britten in their
library as well.
Baxís Legend-Sonata is another one of those ďlateĒ Bax works that
challenge the long-held assumption that Bax had little inspiration
left after he completed his last symphony.
The Legend-Sonata finds Bax at near the top of his form and
must be regarded as one of his most pleasing chamber works.
It certainly comes as something of a relief to hear the
genial Bax following all the horror and nightmares the Bridge and
Britten works conjure and I think it was wise planning to put it
last on the disc.
Thatís not to say the Bax is light weight Ė it certainly
isnít, but itís wonderfully tuneful and serene and the glorious slow
movement takes as its theme a shortened version of Fandís song of
Immortal Love, and itís reference here is quite moving as it shows
Bax in very reflective mood as if looking back longingly over the
years to that time in his life when he was most on fire as an artist
and had created his most perfect work.
The Legend-Sonata should not be mistaken for Baxís earlier Cello
Sonata, which uses the opening of Spring Fire as the theme for its
That sonata is more discursive and has not found much favor among
cellists and sadly the same is true of the Legend-Sonata although I
suspect more cellists will take it up after hearing this wonderfully
evocative and expressive performance by Moser.
The only other recordings include Florence Hootonís mono
recording on Lyrita, recently reissued but still sounding ancient
despite a nice mastering, and an ASV recording with Bernard Gregor-Smith
that is an essential purchase as it features all of Baxís works for
cello and piano on one disc and all very well played too but this
new recording on Hanssler provides both a recording and performance
that is of the very highest quality and advocates a work by Bax that
deserves to be far better known.