Top orchestras must
have more than their fair share of superb individual musicians
but one suspects that opportunities for them to make recordings
on their own may be less than in times past. This disc is the
fourth release in a series attempting to rectify that trend.
The “Philharmonic Soloists” line features leading players from
the Vienna Philharmonic. In this case the soloist is their principal
cellist since 1973, Franz Bartolomey. The disc demonstrates
very well that it is not necessary to be exclusively in the
solo limelight to be able to make first-class records of major
repertoire such as the Chopin Sonata. Sensibly, though, the
programme has put been together so as also to give lesser-known
works and younger musicians the chance to shine.
Sonata for cello and piano opens the disc and is gracious and
grateful for both instruments, a most characteristic work. In
three movements, it is considerably less grand than the Chopin
but well worth an airing. The slow movement Romanza is particularly
memorable. Bartolomey’s rendition is mellifluous and never overstated.
He is thoughtfully partnered by the Japanese pianist Madoka
Haydn wrote three
flute trios and sold them for publication in about 1790. The
first is played here and sounds as if it is from an earlier
period in Haydn’s life. Nevertheless it is full of charm and
humour. Here Bartolomey plays second string to the flute of
Monika Guca, who is from Lower Austria. Excellent teamwork is
the hallmark of this performance. The three movement structure
contains no surprises but a stream of delightful ideas.
The Chopin Cello
Sonata, a relatively rare foray away from the solo keyboard,
was inspired by his friendship with the cellist Auguste Franchomme.
Together they gave the first performance (minus the first movement)
at Chopin’s last Paris concert in 1848. In four movements, the
dramatic first movement is almost epic in scale, particularly
when the exposition repeat is taken; as here. It is followed
by a scherzo, largo and allegro to make up a key work in a cellist’s
19th century repertoire. Bartolomey has the emotional
measure of the piece - Chopin was sick with tuberculosis and
his life in turmoil - without perhaps “attacking” it with virtuoso
intent. The first movement is cumulative in its power and the
reflective moments are most moving. As in the Hummel, Inui’s
contribution is highly sympathetic.
Naxos already has
a recording of the Chopin Sonata in the catalogue, played by
Maria Kliegel and Bernd Glemser. That is very fine too and I
would find it hard to choose between the performances. To follow,
Kliegel plays more Chopin (mostly arrangements) and Bartolomey’s
programme seems more interesting.
Throughout the disc
Bartolomey’s playing is immaculate, beautifully controlled and
completely at the service of the music. The recorded sound balances
the instruments well and has an appropriately intimate feeling
which suits the performance style. Bartolomey contributes excellent
notes to the booklet, these cover each work in reasonable detail
and there is also an essay entitled “A Short History of the
Cello”. Inter alia this features some examples of the
importance of the cello in opera (for example, the opening of
Act III of Tosca), experience no doubt of many evenings
spent at the State Opera.
As well as being
an ideal introduction to the cello (and perhaps an inspiration
to youngsters learning it), this is a must for anyone interested
in the instrument. I haven’t heard the others in the series
– these feature the viola, clarinet and horn – but on this evidence
it is a most worthwhile project. Needless to say the cost is
low and here the pleasure/cost ratio is very high.