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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Music for Cello and Piano - Volume 3

Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Op.102/1 (1815)
Cello Sonata No. 5 in D Op.102/2 (1815)
Twelve Variations on "See here the conqu’ring hero comes" from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus WoO45
Duet in E flat for viola and cello WoO32 Duet with two obbligato eyeglasses
Maria Kliegel (cello), Nina Tichman (Piano), Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Rec. Clara Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany, February 2003; March 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.555787 [58:47]

With this disc, Maria Kliegel and Nina Tichmann complete their survey of Beethoven’s music for cello and piano. The two previous volumes have received very warm reviews (see links below) and this final offering maintains the highest artistic standards.

Beethoven’s 4th and 5th Cello Sonatas are intermittently grand but often enigmatic works; their spirit is well captured on these recordings. In the 4th Sonata, Maria Kliegel maximizes the contrast between the beautifully reflective slow introduction and subsequent allegro with a very forthright approach to the latter. Later on she continues to master the awkward transitions, finding humour in the opening bars of the finale before playing the more serious sections with great passion. Her performance of the 5th sonata comes from the same mould and is convincing throughout. The slow movement is the highlight – long-breathed and with just the right degree of melancholy. Nina Tichman’s contribution is invariably sympathetic.

As reviews of the previous discs in this series have indicated, these accounts of the sonatas can be considered alongside the very best. Comparing these new renditions with Harrell and Ashkenazy (recorded by Decca in 1987), I found it hard to choose between them. Both in approach and recorded sound, Harrell’s recordings seem rather mellower but is this an advantage or not? I also re-listened to Rostropovich and Richter in the sonatas and found them marginally most convincing of all. Their recordings were made in 1962-3 but the sound is perfectly acceptable.

Ultimately, which of these artists to choose may depend on the appeal of the additional works. Rostropovich’s Philips Duo set of the sonatas includes all three sets of variations played by Maurice Gendron and Jean Françaix. Harrell’s set has the Horn Sonata (played by Barry Tuckwell) as an odd and only coupling. In Volume 1 of her series, Kliegel plays that work in an arrangement for the cello. Each of her three discs has one of the sets of variations and Volume 2 has an arrangement of Beethoven’s Opus 3 string trio for cello and piano. This new disc concludes with another rarity, the Duet with two obbligato eyeglasses. The humorous title derives from the poor eyesight of the dedicatee, Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz, an amateur cellist and friend of the composer. Like many of Beethoven’s "works without opus", it is attractive but hardly a masterpiece. Tabea Zimmermann’s viola blends well with Kliegel’s cello and this is worth a hearing. The Judas Maccabeus variations are also well done, the grandeur of original theme being prominent and foreshadowing an approach which is maintained through all twelve variations.

The cello is slightly closely balanced but the recorded sound is otherwise excellent, and there is good documentation. Collectors of the first two volumes have no reason to hesitate in completing the set. If you are starting your collection of Beethoven’s cello music the Naxos discs offer no price advantage (rather a slight disadvantage over the other sets mentioned because three discs are required). In this field, there are also other bargain sets around (e.g. du Pré and Barenboim) but Kliegel and Tichman should not be overlooked.

Patrick C Waller

Link to review of Volume 1:
Link to review of Volume 2:
Link to review of Harrell/Ashkenazy recording:

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