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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Music for Cello and Piano

Cello Sonata in F major, Op.5 No.1 [23'40]
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op.5 No.2 [26'36]
Horn Sonata in F minor Op. 17 (transcribed for cello) [13'51]
Cello Sonata in A major, Op.69 [24'41]
Cello Sonata in C major, Op.102 No.1 [14'31]
Cello Sonata in D major, Op.102 No.2 [17'21]
12 Variations on a theme of Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, WoO 45 [11.01]
7 Variations on ‘Bei Männern’, from Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’, WoO 46 [8'12]
Miklós Perényi (cello)
András Schiff (piano)
Recorded at Reitstadel Neumarkt, Dec 2001 and Aug 2002
[76'34 + 74'36]


There are now quite a large number of excellent sets of Beethoven’s music for cello and piano in the catalogue, and it’s easy to see why it appeals to artists and record companies. Aside from the quality of the music, which at its best is inspired, it is a relatively cheap project which neatly gets the complete output onto two well-filled discs. So the competition for this newcomer from ECM is pretty stiff – Richter/Rostropovich, Barenboim/du Pré, Maisky/Argerich, Fournier/Kempff, Solomon/Piatigorsky – you get the idea. The list goes on. In fact, it’s fair to say that most of the great cellists of the last fifty years have recorded at least the five sonatas.

Taking this new set on its own terms, any prospective purchaser is unlikely to be disappointed. Both these musicians are chamber players of the utmost distinction, and have played together many times, in latter years performing these very works. And it shows. The phrasing throughout is sensitively and supply moulded. With tempi generally on the relaxed side, Beethoven’s singing lines are made to contrast with the darker shifts in mood and harmony. This deeper approach does tend to come at the expense of some humour, especially in the earlier sonatas. I can imagine a more sprightly, cheeky finale to, say, the F Major Op.1. This can be heard in the version provided by the Emerson Quartet’s cellist David Finckel and his partner Wu Han on the internet-only label, though even here there is a strong, heroic stamina that compensates.

Where Schiff and Perényi really come into their own is in the later, greater music. Here, one can lose oneself in playing of great artistry and profundity. With the ‘heroic period’ Sonata in A Major, Op.69, we get the feeling that the broad opening melody has a long-breathed Romanticism that is totally in keeping with the grandeur and importance of the piece. Beethoven was, by now, giving the solo instrument greater prominence, exploiting its sonorities, making the partnership more a battle of equals. The lovely passage in the development section (track 2, 6’03) where the composer explores new harmonic areas, shows both players alive to the rhapsodic, mystical elements in the music. The complex thematic material and structure of both Op.102 Sonatas again reveal these musicians’ sheer intelligence in matters of phrasing. Listen to Schiff’s weighting of the thickly-written piano chords in the adagio of the D Major, music that evokes images worthy of a Mahlerian funeral march.

This is altogether outstandingly intense playing, and is given a warm, fairly close recording that suits the performances well. ECM’s presentation is typically classy, with a long, thought-provoking essay by Martin Meyer entitled ‘A Dialogue through all the Tones: Beethoven as Chamber Musician’, and a shorter, more philosophical one by Peter Esterházy called ‘Two, three faces’. You may get more fire and brimstone elsewhere, but the wisdom and sheer good taste of this music-making will have rewards long into the future.

Tony Haywood

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