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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 65 (1961) [20:25]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Cello Sonata (1948/1953) [8:22]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata for Piano and Cello in E minor, Op. 38 (1862-65) [25:12]
Jakob Koranyi (cello); Peter Friis Johansson (piano)
rec. Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, 18-19 November, 16-17 December, 28-29 December 2006.
CAPRICE CAP21767 [53:59]
Experience Classicsonline

This CD would seem to mark the recording debuts of both cellist Jakob Koranyi and pianist Peter Friis Johansson, both Swedish and both born in 1983; at least I could not find any evidence to the contrary. If so, this is an auspicious debut indeed. Koranyi has chosen ambitious repertoire for his disc and demonstrates that he is equally adept in performing the modernist Britten and Ligeti and the classic/romantic Brahms. His pianist Johansson partners him well in both the Brahms and Britten sonatas, while Koranyi has the limelight to himself in the Ligeti solo sonata. Koranyi produces a big, rich sound and yet trims its down to the barest pianissimo when called for. His technique and intonation are also secure. In every way, these performances can stand with the best.
The disc opens with the sonata that Britten wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich in 1961. This five-movement work is a real test for both cellist and pianist and contains a great variety of moods from the dramatic, to the lyrical, and the whimsical. The fourth movement March with its cello slides high in the instrument’s register brings out some of the humor of the work. Both cellist and pianist display all the necessary virtuosity - and then some - to produce a riveting listening experience. They may not possess the sheer authority of the composer and Rostropovich, whose recording remains the benchmark, but they provide a viable alternative.
In between the two duo sonatas, Koranyi performs the solo sonata of György Ligeti as well as I have ever heard it. In fact, I prefer it to the version by David Geringas that is included in Teldec’s authoritative Ligeti Project. Koranyi is slightly slower than Geringas in the first movement Dialogo, bringing out the drama of the piece extremely well, and he is just that much quicker in the following Capriccio. The latter movement is marked presto con slancio and is to be played as fast as possible. Koranyi shows that it can be done and musically as well. It seems strange that this sonata was banned by the Hungarian authorities after it was written, when it seems like a logical successor to the music of Bartók and Kodály. Ligeti, himself, at one time considered it and his other compositions before he left Hungary as “prehistoric”. However, in his last compositions (for example, the Violin Concerto), he showed that he was able to combine some of his most advanced, experimental techniques with the Hungarian folksong influence that permeated his works of the ’forties and ’fifties. The sonata is a beautiful piece that should be a staple in the solo cello repertoire. The main theme of the work, which pervades the first movement and returns in the second, has that feeling of ineffable sadness that is so gripping in Ligeti’s music.
The disc ends with one of those staples - for piano and cello, in that order - Brahms’ Sonata in E minor. Johansson and Koranyi are up against much competition in this work, but even here fare very well. I compared their recording with one of my favorites, the second recording by Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma (Sony). If Ax and Ma are more straightforward and achieve a more perfect balance between the instruments, the newcomers are very convincing in their own right. Johansson and Koranyi take over two minutes longer in the first movement, but it never seems slow. They bring out all the emotion and lyricism without ever going over the top. Their interpretation exemplifies the young, passionate Brahms and they judge the dynamics of the movement perfectly. On the other hand, their second and third movements are somewhat faster than Ax and Ma. They find a real lightness in the Allegretto quasi Menuetto that ideally captures the feeling of the dance. What a contrast to the stultifying account by the Shapiras that I reviewed for this website earlier! The fugal finale, a throwback to Bach, is handled with rigor and yet with plenty of excitement to conclude the disc in winning fashion.
The recorded sound is all one could ask for: full and present with justice to both cello and piano. Certainly this is one for all lovers of cello music and anyone interested in these particular works. One editorial note: the overall timing on the back of the CD case is incorrect. It should read 53:59 rather than 63:59. I would have been happy if these artists had in fact included an additional ten minutes of music!
Leslie Wright


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