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Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)
Cello Sonata in E major Op 47 [33'44]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Cello Sonata in G minor Op 65 [29'10]
Alban Gerhardt (cello); Steven Osborne (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 17-19 December 2007
HYPERION
CDA67624 [62:56]

 

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Coupling Chopin's and Alkan's Cello Sonatas is an inspired decision, serving to enhance one's appreciation of these masterly works. Both were written for the great French cellist Auguste-Joseph Franchomme who gave their premieres in 1848 and 1857 respectively. The composer was at the piano in each case. Chopin's work comes from his last years when he was refining and concentrating his musical style. The Alkan Sonata achieved great success during his lifetime, but after his death tragically disappeared into oblivion for much of the twentieth century.
 

The Chopin Sonata is much better known, but the Alkan is, if anything, more approachable and immediately attractive. It is a substantial four-movement work lasting over half an hour in performance, yet despite these dimensions never does one feel it outstays its welcome. One of the glories of Alkan's music is its unique mixture of classical order and extreme virtuoso display. The performers clearly relish the moments of virtuosity - witness the coruscating Saltarella finale - but for me the most memorable moments are found in the lyrical Adagio third movement. Both players allow the music to speak in a natural and unforced way, without any feeling that they are attempting to make a special case for such a little-known work. The balance between the instruments is excellently judged even in the most devilish passages. AlkanŐs musical language may take time to appreciate fully but in a recording such as this his artistic worth is triumphantly vindicated. 

With the Chopin one has a much greater list of comparisons - a particular favourite of mine is Du Pré's recording with Barenboim, her last studio recording. However, the Gerhardt/Osborne partnership lives up to the standards set in the Alkan. Again I was struck by the unforced lyricism of the playing, allowing the music to unfold in a natural manner. Osborne handles the delicate filigree of the piano writing with aplomb, making one wish he would record a solo Chopin disc.  This is a performance to stand alongside the best available. 

As usual the Keener/Eadon team comes up trumps in a wonderfully clean and transparent recording. The programme notes by Kenneth Hamilton are scholarly and highly readable. 

Robert Costin

 


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