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
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.