Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete music for cello and piano
Twelve Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio “Judas Maccabeus” WoO 45 [11:53]; Twelve Variations on the theme “Ein mädchen oder weibchen” from Mozart’s Opera “The Magic Flute” Op. 66 [9:46]; Seven Variations on the theme “Bei mannern welch liebe fühlen” from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” WoO 46 [9:35]; Sonata in F major Op. 5 No. 1 [20:39]; Sonata in G minor Op. 5 No. 2 [22:41]; Sonata in A major Op. 69 [26:24]; Sonata in C major Op. 102 No. 1 [15:03]; Sonata in D major Op. 102 No. 2 [19:17]
DVD - Behind the Beethoven Project [50:58]
Laurence Lesser (cello); HaeSun Paik (piano)
rec. Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, MA, 5-9 January 2009 (CDs) and Kumbo Art Hall, Seoul, Korea, 19-20 February 2009 (DVD)
DVD - 16:9 aspect; Regions not stated
BRIDGE 9329A/C [CDs: 75:12 + 61:03 & DVD: 50:58]
Beethoven’s music for cello and piano fits neatly onto two CDs, and choice amongst the many distinguished artists who have recorded them is already absurdly difficult. This new version by Lawrence Lesser and HaeSun Paik was nonetheless a task well worth undertaking and the results are very impressive and enjoyable. I hope that they will have the success they deserve.
Lawrence Lesser may not be a household name on the UK side of the Atlantic. He has however had a long and distinguished career as a cellist. This has included taking part in the Heifetz/Piatigorsky concerts and making the first recording of the Schoenberg Concerto, as a teacher, and as an administrator at the New England Conservatory. HaeSun Paik was a prizewinner in the Leeds Piano Competition in 1989. The present recordings were conceived as a form of 70th birthday celebration by Lawrence Lesser, who explains in the booklet notes that he has known these works since he was 10. It is clear that they have lost none of their fascination for him, and also that he knows them and has thought about them in immense detail. These are above all performances that follow unerringly every changing aspect of the character of the music. They are not showy - necessarily at times they do display the techniques of both players but there is never any sense that this is display for its own sake or that they are exaggerating or distorting any aspect of the music. These are quite simply performances in which the players allow the music to speak for itself. Given that these are amongst Beethoven’s greatest works the result is inevitably engrossing and immensely impressive. The composer was virtually inventing here a genre of works in which piano and cello are equal partners, and whose formal arrangement of movements varies from Sonata to Sonata rather than following a set pattern.
Not only do the performers on these discs show a perfect understanding of the music, but they also play with unfailingly beautiful tone. Despite the inherent differences between the instruments they match their respective articulation and phrasing so well that one is never bothered by any apparent incompatibility between the instruments, as can be the case with cello and piano. On the contrary, one is conscious simply of a creative musical conversation between two fine musicians. In this they are aided by a clear and well balanced recording and an excellent booklet essay by Malcolm MacDonald. Most but not all repeats are taken.
The DVD includes live performances of several movements from the Sonatas during later concerts in South Korea, as well as interviews in which the music, the players and the cello are discussed. Although you might not want to see this more than once it is presented in an interesting way. One minor point that struck me is that the players never look at each other, or indeed at the audience either, during the performances. Indeed the cellist would have to turn right round to do so. All communication is through the sound alone and their unobtrusive platform manner is a lesson to many better known and more fidgety players.
I would not suggest that this set could or should replace the many classic versions of these works, including those by Casals, Rostropovich, Fournier or whoever is your particular favourite, and clearly it is not comparable with more recent historically informed performances. It is nonetheless immensely satisfying and enjoyable, and worth hearing for its sheer musicianship and obvious devotion to the music itself. If you have room for more than one recording of these works you should certainly consider adding this to your collection.
John Sheppard 

Immensely satisfying and enjoyable, and worth hearing for its sheer musicianship and obvious devotion to the music itself.