Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Cello Sonata in F Major Op. 6 (1883) [23.82]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Cello Sonata in E minor Op. 38 (1865) [24.71]
Ludwig THUILLE (1861-1907) Cello Sonata in D Minor Op. 22 (1902) [28.58]
Jamie Walton (cello); Daniel Grimwood (piano)
rec. 31 March-1 April 2009, Henry Wood Hall, London
JCL RECORDS JCL516 [78.54]

This disc was an unexpected pleasure to review. Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood are to be commended for pairing the ubiquitous Brahms E minor with the lesser known Strauss, while at the same time rescuing the Thuille from musical oblivion.

Walton and Grimwood are both concert soloists in their own right but they have forged an acclaimed musical partnership and have a number of recordings for cello and piano behind them. Throughout this recording, the attention to musical balance and dynamic detail was excellent, and it was clear that the pair had a shared musical understanding of the three works.

The Strauss sonata is a very early work written around the same time as the violin sonata. It opens to fanfare F major chords. The ensuing Allegro is quirky and playful and some of the material reminded me of the early Strauss Burlesque for piano and orchestra. I particularly enjoyed Grimwood’s light and playful characterisation of the thematic material. There was much playful dialogue between the two soloists and close attention to musical balance.

Strauss appears to be indebted to Mendelssohn in both the second and third movements of the sonata. The second is a Mendelssohn Song Without Words and Walton’s cantabile playing was beautifully judged throughout and brought out the sweetly lyrical elements. The last movement shows Strauss at this most playful and impish and it foreshadows the tone poem Till Eulenspiegel and Zerbinetta in Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos. Grimwood’s lightness of touch and delicate phrasing were delightful while Walton deftly handled the skittish and difficult passage-work.

There have been many recordings of the Brahms E minor sonata. Messrs Hough and Isserlis are one of the best of the most recent recordings. Walton and Grimwood hold their own in this distinguished company. Both soloists captured the melancholic poetry of the first movement and I was struck by the lightness of texture throughout. They brought out the classical elements of the minuet and again they managed to keep the textures light and fluid in the complex trio section. I was not convinced that the voicing and balance were quite right at the beginning of the final fugue but the coda was exciting and exhilarating.

In his excellent programme notes, Grimwood makes the claim that: “Of the three works on this disc, this [the Thuille] sonata is the most ambitious and perhaps in some respects the most successful”. While I’m not sure I agree with this assertion, it is clear that this work has been unjustly neglected and deserves to be heard much more widely.

I found the first movement of the Thuille sonata to be the weakest of the three. It is well developed and harmonically daring, with chromatic echoes of Wagner and Franck, but I found the thematic material slightly bland and uninspiring. Having said that Walton and Grimwood give a very good account of the work and there is some excellent dramatic dialogue between the two soloists.

The second movement of the Thuille completely won me over: it is a rapturous love song in the lavish romantic manner. Walton deploys a ravishing tone and compellingly brings out the grand emotional sweep of this work, while Grimwood alternates between dreamy romanticism and grand passion. The playing of this movement was particularly inspired.

The last movement is jaunty and dance-like and it allows opportunity for virtuoso display from both instruments. The players are undaunted by the challenge and both display a considerable range of pyrotechnics, tone colour and textural variation throughout. The interplay is excellent and between them they bring the piece to a dramatic and successful conclusion.

Grimwood’s programme notes are concise and interesting particularly in the way they highlight the historical background and musical influences of the three works.

Robert Beattie

Displays a considerable range of pyrotechnics, tone colour and textural variation.