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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 1 in G major for piano and violin, op. 78 transcribed for cello by Peter Horr (1878-79)
Five Lieder, arranged for cello by Peter Horr
Sonata No. 1 in E minor for piano and cello, op. 38 (1862-65)
Peter Horr (cello); Cora Irsen (piano)
Rec. 6-8 Dec 2002 at Furstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, Germany. DDD

This release from MDG Gold mystifies me. Brahms wrote two excellent cello sonatas yet this release includes only the earliest of the two works plus a cello transcription of the first violin sonata and a cello arrangement of five lieder. The cello repertoire is already exceptionally prolific and rich in quality so these two transcriptions seem to be stretching out this Brahms chamber series unnecessarily.

During the composition of the Violin sonata, Op. 78 between 1878-79 Brahms was at his full maturity having completed his Violin Concerto, two symphonies, the First Piano Concerto and a substantial amount of chamber music. The Violin Sonata, sometimes given the title ‘Rain Sonata’, was transcribed for cello and piano in the key of D major by Julius Klengel, the German cellist/composer and published in 1897. However on this release we have a transcription of the Violin Sonata for cello and piano from the German cello soloist Peter Horr. This retains the original key. The playing of Horr and Irsen seems technically very sound but the interpretation comes across as unnecessarily uneven in pace especially in the opening movement. A rather plodding and uninteresting adagio is followed by a natural and unaffected allegro finale. Unfortunately I sense little in the way of joyous music-making in this interpretation.

Personally I would not look for a cello transcription of the first Violin Sonata, Op. 78 other than for reasons of curiosity. I would certainly advise sticking with a recording of the original score of which there are several very recommendable versions available. My particular favourite is the 1974 account from violinist Pinchas Zukerman and pianist Daniel Barenboim on Deutsche Grammophon 289 453 121-2. The couplings on this double set are the second and third violin sonatas, Brahms’ scherzo from the F.A.E. Sonata and the two viola sonatas.

The notes translated into English in the booklet are rather difficult to read and I still do not fully understand the intention behind the transcribing of five of the Brahms lieder into a score for cello and piano. However the works are agreeable enough and certainly well performed by the duo Horr and Irsen. However they did not linger long in the memory.

Over twenty years separate Brahms’s two cello sonatas. The earliest of the two is performed here. Brahms composed the score between 1862 and 1865 which lay inside a fertile period that also included the composition of the second String Sextet op. 36, the Piano Quintet op. 34, the Cantata: Rinaldo op. 50 and the mighty Ein Deutsches Requiem, op. 45. The first Cello Sonata is a pastoral work with elegiac overtones. Soloists Horr and Irsen seem at one with the demands of the score and give a pleasing account with a quality sense of line.

There are several really fine versions of the First Cello Sonata op. 38. An eminently recommendable account comes from cellist Pieter Wispelwey and pianist Paul Komen on Channel Classics 5493; using period instruments the interpretation should offer considerable new insights.

Unfortunately there must surely be only a limited market for the present two interesting cello arrangements. Far superior accounts of the first Cello Sonata op.38 are available.

Michael Cookson

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