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Ignaz MOSCHELES (1794-1870)
Cello Sonata in E major Op 121 (1850-51) [33.17]
Melodisch-contrapunktische Studien Op 137 Nos 4, 8 and 9 (published 1864)
[No.7 in E flat Book II, No.6 in D minor Book II, No.4 in C sharp minor Book I] [8.10]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Cello Sonata in A major Op 104 (1824) [23.11]
Jiří Bárta (cello)

Hamish Milne (piano)
rec. Wathen Hall, St Pauls School, Barnes, London, February 2005
HYPERION CDA 67521 [64.55]


It would tempting to think, given the heroic executant instincts of both composers, that this brace of sonatas would fall into the virtuoso school of the first and second quarters of the nineteenth century. Friedrich Grützmacher was one of the reigning cello lions of the time – indeed he and Moscheles tried out the sonata together in 1851 – though there were other players whose presence stimulated composers, such as Julius Rietz, and the time was ripe for some fertile and important works. So, it would be tempting but ultimately wrong to assume that these would be note-spinning and vaguely barnstorming novelties for hungry virtuosi.

What both sonatas share, in fact, is a certain lyric reticence and charm, qualities that both Bárta and Milne are keen to stress in these very elegant and persuasively sympathetic performances. Moscheles’s second sonata is the bigger work, one dedicated to Schumann. The piano writing is strongly characterised and though there’s a certain amount of rather predictable passagework for the cellist in the first movement the themes are full of a certain piquancy and harmonic interest – if sometimes rather four-square in outline. The scherzo has its puckish moments and a dance profile whereas the third movement Ballade (in Bohemian style) has some charming if slightly generic Dumka-like moments. To offset this, varying moods lead to a very inward restatement of the initial theme – reflective and delicately done by both performers – before they dig in for a vigorous finale.

Hummel’s sonata dates from 1824 and cries out for grazioso phrasing. There’s rather more old world gallantry here, a certain nostalgic rococo element does creep in, but themes are well distributed between the two instruments and there’s a deal of reserved dignity throughout. The Romanze is very affectionately played and Hummel’s seemingly effortless gift for lyrical phrasing is exploited to the full. The finale embeds a natty song without words – with the piano as often as not leading with a certain decorative ebullience. Rustic dance motifs and driving energy end the work in a suitably high-spirited fashion.

Sandwiched between the sonatas are three of Moscheles’s arrangements for cello and piano from Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier. He was ahead of Mendelssohn, chronologically as well as practically, given his earlier birth, in propagandising for Bach and Handel and indeed Scarlatti - which he apparently played on a Broadwood harpsichord in the late 1830s. The point of the arrangements was to give them a more concertante profile and to get them played in chamber concerts, the better to bring them to wider attention.

The performances as noted are warm, affectionate and intimate and the recording catches the balance with great clarity and justness. Notes, too, are up to the expected Hyperion standard.

Jonathan Woolf


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