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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Cello Sonata No.1 H277 (1939) [17:50]
Cello Sonata No.2 H286 (1941) [18:59]
Cello Sonata No.3 H340 (1952) [19:00]
Mattia Zappa (cello)
Massimiliano Mainolfi (piano)
rec. Deutschlandradiom Studio 10, Berlin April 2003 (No.1); March 2006 (Nos.2, 3)
CLAVES 502803 [56:10]
Experience Classicsonline

Good performances. Though cellist Mattia Zappa has attended masterclasses with Steven Isserlis he’s actually rather closer to the old Czech pairing of Josef Chuchro and Josef Hála in outlook. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in my book even though Supraphon has replaced that old warhorse with Saša Vectomov’s set of the sonatas – though it’s more complicated than that, as will be noted briefly below.

Though they’re good performances they can be a little too muscular. The First Sonata is something of a test case, its opening pushed a little too far away from the glinting wit that Chuchro found in it. And it would have helped – though I agree that it’s part of Zappa’s consistent approach – if the cellist had lightened bow pressure and slightly tapered phrase points. The dry studio recording points up these decisions quite graphically. Zappa and Massimiliano Mainolfi cede to Chuchro and Hála as well as Vectomov and his pianist Josef Páleníček in the gravity of the same sonata’s slow movement but I liked the Claves pairing in the finale – rip snorting commitment and élan. No prisoners here.

The Second Sonata receives a strong sinewy reading. The powerful, purposeful piano chording in the central movement compels attention and this movement as a whole has a doom-laden almost graphic, tragic aspect that reflects the times. The older Czech pairing of Chuchro and Hála arguably deal better with the paragraphal sweep but the newcomers are to be respected here for the forthrightness. If you usually find the finale of this sonata obliquely witty then you’ll find that the acoustically wintry, dry studio recording in Berlin imparts a percussive attack that becomes at times almost unnerving.

In the Third Sonata I always relish the way in which Chuchro and Hála catch the verdant Janáček-like elation of the writing. Neither Vectomov nor Isserlis quite manage it. One of the tricks is slightly to relax the tempo. Then again the Zappa-Mainolfi has its own ideas; their view of the Andante is decidedly nippy but it works on its own terms. The Highlands feel of the finale is another high point and it comes across nicely in this performance.

Where do we stand? Chuchro-Hála is currently unavailable. Its Supraphon replacement however, the Vectomov, is a double set containing the sonatas and the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2, H. 304, the Variations for Cello and Piano on a Theme of Rossini, H. 290 and the Variations for Cello and Piano on a Slovak Folksong, H. 378. It’s twice as expensive as this Claves and getting on for four times as much as the Isserlis-Peter Evans Helios reissue [CDH55185] which is going for £5.50. I’ve not had the opportunity to audition the old Firkušny-Starker set, though oddly it doesn’t seem to have garnered universal praise. There are a few other alternatives. For a powerful conspectus of the sonatas however these studio-cold and defiant readings have real merit.

Jonathan Woolf


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