It seems an unlikely partnership, at least from the cover photograph.
In fact, Werner Bärtschi and Wen-Sinn Yang regularly perform
together. Each is from Switzerland, Bärtschi ethnically
so, while Yang was born there to Taiwanese parents.
Lorin Maazel is quoted in the liner as saying of Yang: ‘At
the highest technical level he plays with a wonderful, round
tone and perfect intonation. His phrasing is sensitive, and
he has an extraordinary grasp of the philosophical dimension
of the works he plays.’
Some, but not all, of these statements are borne out by the
present recording. The ‘wonderful, round tone’ is
everywhere evident, and is clearly Yang’s major asset.
His sense of phrasing is also impressive; early Beethoven needs
subtlety in the phrasing, it needs a player with a good grasp
of the musical structure, but who can make it evident without
recourse to dynamic extremes or indulgent rubato. Yang is just
such a player. His Beethoven is Classical but without ever being
The one statement by Maazel that doesn’t ring true is
his commendation of Yang’s perfect intonation. The intonation
here isn’t catastrophic, but it is far from ideal. Fast
passage-work brings out some deficiencies and so do fortissimo
movement endings. That’s my only real gripe though, as
I say, it is not a huge problem, but at this stage it is what
distinguishes Yang from the greatest proponents of his instrument.
An ‘extraordinary grasp of the philosophical dimension
of the works he plays’ is almost beside the point in the
case of early Beethoven. Unless the simplicity of the interpretation
and the directness of expression has been calculated to accord
with the straightforwardness of the music. His is an ideal approach,
in many ways, to the Variations on Handel. Like Beethoven, he
strives throughout for musical variety in spite of the limited
material. But it’s not much of a piece really, and it
is curious that it appears at the beginning rather than at the
end of the programme.
The two sonatas Op.5 are more substantial, at least in terms
of duration. Again, the players strive for musical variety rather
than psychological drama, and again the results seem fully in
accord with the spirit of the music. The cello phrasing is slightly
more emphatic here, with more hairpins and more dynamic contrast.
Werner Bärtschi is a sympathetic and lively accompanist.
Not that it is all accompaniment; this is 18th century
music, after all, and the keyboard has at least equal prominence
to the cello, which may or may not explain why Bärtschi
has a higher billing than Yang on the cover. Like Yang, Bärtschi
occasionally struggles with the faster passage-work, resulting
in one or two slips. They’re minor flaws though, and serve
rather to demonstrate that this is a live recording than to
ruin the overall experience.
Modest applause follows each of the works, and it certainly
is modest, suggesting either a small or an unenthusiastic audience.
Clearly, it takes a lot to animate the Swiss when it comes to
musical prowess, because these performances deserve a better
reception than that.
The recorded sound is good, as is the acoustic of the venue.
They combine to produce a warm, rounded tone for both instruments
that never compromises the detail. Yang’s performance
is well worth hearing, even if it doesn’t quite meet the
standards attributed by Maazel. An enjoyable disc, but one to
file under ‘promising performer’ rather than ‘benchmark