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
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
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
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
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
David R Dunsmore