> Brahms - Schumann [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata in E minor, Opus 38
Cello Sonata in F major, Opus 99
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Opus 73
Arto Noras (cello)
Juhani Lagerspetz (piano)
Rec April 1996, Järvenpää Hall, Finland
APEX 09274 05982 [66.16]


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Arto Noras is an excellent cellist with a strong technique, and he brings real insights into this repertoire. He plays with a clear sense of line and direction, aided and abetted by his sensitive accompanist.

Of course in Brahms's sonatas the piano part cannot be relegated to the description 'accompaniment', since the concept is one of partnership of equals. That equality is not quite achieved here, partly because the recording, which is otherwise very good, tends slightly to favour the cello. Perhaps also it is because Noras has the bigger personality of the two artists.

The two Brahms sonatas are typically masterly examples of the composer's genius in chamber music. Each has its own particular personality, but each is equally sure of the partnership of cello and piano, and of the balances between the strongly characterised themes. These things are best shown through a comparison of the opening movements. In Opus 38 Brahms opts for a broad Allegro non troppo, and Noras responds with gloriously full tone in the melodic arch of the principal theme. In the second Sonata, Opus 99, the Allegro is qualified differently, by a Vivace which insists on the momentum being intensified and the rhythm therefore carrying the message. Here also the artists seem to capture the essential spirit of the music, and their reading of it is truly vivacious.

In fact the comparisons between the two sonatas are endlessly fascinating. Taking into account his relatively relaxed opening tempo in Opus 38, Brahms boldly dispenses with a conventional slow movement, even opting for a three rather than a four-movement design. The central movement is marked Allegretto quasi Menuetto, and Noras and Lagerspetz again respond sensitively to the challenge of interpretation. But when in Opus 99 a genuine slow movement is on offer - a true Adagio, this - their performance is deeply felt.

On CD the Brahms sonatas would make a short programme, and the artists add a highly appropriate extra item, in the form of Schumann's three Fantasiestücke. These were written relatively late in Schumann's tragically short life. They were completed in 1849, not long before he encountered the young Brahms and took him under his wing. Again the interpretations are highly enjoyable, and so too the music, which is rather less well known than the Brahms items.

Terry Barfoot

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