Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805) Sonata No. 3 in G major [10:09]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924) Après un Rêve [4:23]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Vocalise (1912) [7 :50]
David POPPER (1843-1913) Hungarian Rhapsody, Op. 68 [9 :07]
György LIGETI (1923-2006) Sonata for Solo Cello (1953) [9:20]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 [28:33]
Stjepan Hauser (cello); Yoko Misumi (piano)
rec. no details provided
MERIDIAN CDE 84589 [64:58]
Stjepan Hauser is a young Croatian cellist. He and his pianist, Yoko Misumi, are members of the Greenwich Trio. Their biographies in the booklet reproduce the expected list of illustrious mentors and prestigious concert appearances, but more telling than any of that is the playing, which is consistently impressive.
The sonata by Boccherini reveals a cellist who produces a beautiful sound, very clean and pure and with impeccable intonation. Phrasing is musical and subtle and the player is equally at home in the singing lines of the first movement and in the more rhythmic second and third. The reading of the cello transcription of Fauré’s beautiful song is slow indeed, very romantic with lots of expressive rubato. The original is at once ecstatic, controlled and cool, very French, but the present reading, the heart clearly visible on the sleeve, transforms it into something quite different. This is valid enough – it is a transcription, after all, not the original – but once it was over I needed a dose of Gallic restraint. Gérard Souzay, baritone, provided it. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise usually provokes a similar reaction from me, but in this case it’s clear at least that dreamy, long-breathed lines and languorous atmosphere are what the composer intended. This is therefore a very successful reading.
The recording venue and date of recording are not given, but the contribution of Susanne and Richard – the recording team – is generously acknowledged in the booklet, as is the page turner and the “Coffee Shop next to the church”. The disc is dedicated to the cellist’s parents. The booklet notes are very lightweight and appear to have been written by a non-native English speaker. The booklet as a whole would have benefitted from a bit of editing and detailed proofreading. The recording is close, with the player’s breathing very audible. This will probably bother many listeners less than it does me, but there are other extraneous noises too. The attack of the very first note of the Boccherini, for example, is accompanied by a strange, simultaneous creak which I’m still struggling to identify. The second note too, and many notes thereafter, throughout the disc, apparently associated with bow strokes. Is it from the player’s chair?
Czech cellist-composer David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody is creaky enough already not to need any help. Singing lines alternate with technical fireworks, and the whole is dispatched by Hauser with all the skill and bravura you could possibly want. He is equally commanding in the fiendish second movement of Ligeti’s solo sonata. Five years separate the two movements of this piece, the first a mixture of arioso and sliding, pizzicato chords, and the second, a Paganini-inspired virtuoso showpiece. Each movement is satisfying on its own terms, but the years that separate them were long enough, I fear, to prevent them from melding into a convincing whole. Hauser is very fine in this work, but comparing his performance to that of Emanuelle Bertrand on a Harmonia Mundi disc from 1999, I find I prefer it. She brings a greater sense of calm to the first movement, the pizzicato chords more sonorous, and the near-absence of extraneous noises is a real advantage. More contentious, perhaps, is her way with the finale, preferring something altogether more civilised than Hauser’s quite remarkable wildness. She makes more, having more time to do so, of some of the strange sonorities in this movement, and though each view is no doubt as valid as the other, I find the work itself is more convincing in Bertrand’s hands.
The major work in this recital is the Brahms, and it receives a very fine performance indeed from these two young artists. In the same key as the Fourth Symphony, the fugal finale comes to a close, as does the finale of the later (and greater) work, on an uncompromisingly desolate minor key cadence. Indeed, the work is fairly sombre throughout, its gently light-hearted minuet notwithstanding. The work was composed for an amateur cellist friend of the composer, and singing tone and power in the lower register are more important than technical prowess. The piano part is another matter, and here Yoko Misumi comes into her own at last. Her contribution is a very fine one, fully equal to the standards of her partner, though she comes perilously close to overwhelming him at a few points in the work. I compared this performance to that of Natalie Clein, with Charles Owen on EMI Classics for Pleasure, and found I had a similar reaction to the two performances of the Ligeti. Broadly speaking, Natalie Clein plays with rather more finesse – she is both more espressivo and more legato in the opening bars, for example – but can’t quite match up to the Croatian’s sheer power in the more heavily scored passages. Again, both views seem valid, and this performance of the Brahms is a most satisfying way of bringing this very fine recital to a close.
A very enjoyable recital ending with a fine performance of the Brahms.