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The Art of the Cello
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Grand Sonata in A major for cello and piano Op. 104 (1824) [21:20]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Trio in G for flute, cello and piano Hob.XV:15 [18:49]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata in G minor Op.65 (1848) [29:37]
Franz Bartolomey (cello), Madoka Inui (piano), Monika Guca (flute)
Rec. Studio 2, ORF Funkhaus, Vienna, October 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557708 [69:48]

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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.

Hummel’s “Grand” 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 Inui.

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.

Patrick C Waller



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