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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Eroica

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

CD 1

Cello Sonata No.1 in F major, Op.5 No.1 (1796) [25.55]
Cello Sonata No.4 in C major, Op.102 No.1 (1815) [15.44]
Twelve Variations on ‘See the conquering hero comes’ from Judas Maccabaeus, WoO45 (1796) [11.01]
Twelve Variations on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ from Die Zauberflöte, Op. 66 (1796) [9.44]
Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from Die Zauberflöte, WoO46 (1801) [9.30]
CD 2

Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor, Op.5 No.2 (1796)[25.57]
Cello Sonata No.3 in A major, Op.69 (1808) [27.34]
Cello Sonata No.5 in D major, Op.102 No.2 (1815)[20.51]
Emanuel Gruber (cello); Arnon Erez (piano)
rec. Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Recanati Auditorium, July 2001, Aug 2002. DDD
EROICA JDT 3227 [73.34 + 75.02]

 

Back in 2000 Harry Downey wrote in his review of the Harrell/Ashkenazy recording of the five numbered sonatas (Decca 466 733-2) that reissues were the order of the day. Since then we’ve had a regular stream of new recordings of these works: Adrian and Alfred Brendel on Philips 475 379-2 and Miklós Perényi and András Schiff on ECM New Series 4724012 both of which I’ve heard. There have been others including Pieter Wispelwey/Dejan Lazić which I haven’t encountered but would like to! Beside these new goodies we must set famous versions from Casals/Serkin; Du Pré/Barenboim; Rostrapovich/Richter; the list is extensive. They happen to fit well on two CDs if the wonderful variations are included.

These recordings by a duo previously unknown to me were made in 2001 and have only just been released. So how does this new set compare. Pretty well I’d say on the basis that a definitive version is impossible.

This set takes them the five sonatas out of sequence; which is fine. I love these pieces but I would suggest that you do not play the two discs straight off. Treat them singly and savour their differing delights. The first disc has one Op. 5 dating from 1796 and No. 4 from thirty years later. I thought both were splendid and I was immediately struck by the rapport between the two players. The sound is first rate and captures their instruments very effectively. The second movement of the first sonata reminds me mischievously of "Black Adder" but whatever, this is good musicianship. The second half of CD1 is given over to the three sets of variations. These are not always recorded; sadly for me Askenazy/Harrell in their otherwise fine rendition leave them out. What an omission; to me they are a highpoint among Beethoven’s works. In particular the Handel variations are terrific. Here they are played with much vigour and aplomb.

On CD 2 the duo starts with another early work Op. 5 No. 2. I was absolutely captivated by their fine playing. At no stage did I feel one player was dominating or being over-reverential. They played as a partnership and clearly love these works. As I’m sure many are aware these works were written as piano and cello pieces; the piano is equally important.

The A Major Sonata, Op. 69 is from 1807/8 when Beethoven was writing his Fifth Symphony which has an adjacent opus number. This wonderful piece, my favourite, has a slow beginning bursting into flower. This is followed by a jaunty and swaggering Scherzo. And how these players turn it on in this piece; the third movement begins with a heart-rending adagio and whilst memories of Jacqueline Du Pré and Daniel Barenboim on EMI Classics 5 74447 2 can never be erased these two are certainly worth listening to. Comparing them with the above-mentioned I was very wrapped up in these performances and am so pleased to have discovered them. I also thought they were more emotionally into the pieces than Harrell and Ashkenazy from the comparisons that I made.

Comparisons are necessary because this is such a crowded field. Brendel father and son showed some imbalance of the instruments. I have problems with Alfred Brendel at times and found his playing in the variations verging on the fussy and detracting from the cello. András Schiff is a restrained player in comparison but the performances on ECM with Miklós Perényi were in some ways superior to Gruber and Erez. What I found staggering was turning to an old (1966) recording EMI CDM79691792 of Du Pré and Kovacevich playing the third sonata. This is simply electrifying and is without the coughing that intrudes inevitably on her later Edinburgh set with her husband. What a tragedy that Jacqui never recorded a complete cycle in the studio. However, for those happy to have multiple versions (with a tolerant wife!) and keen to listen to new players these discs will give hours of pleasure. I would love to have time to play and compare all the versions I own - maybe in the future!

I was really unsure about this release before I played it, most of all as to a delay over release and because of the many other distinguished recordings available. I needn’t have worried. These players are highly skilled and – most importantly - musical in their playing.

David R Dunsmore

 



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