RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Frank BRIDGE (1879 - 1941)
Cello Sonata in D minor (1913-17) [21:49]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 - 1976)
Cello Sonata in C, op.65 (1960-61) [19:59]
Arnold BAX (1883 - 1953)
Legend-Sonata (1945) [24:40]
Johannes Moser (cello), Paul Rivinius (piano)
rec. 12-15 January 2009, Kammermusikstudio, SWR, Stuttgart. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.257 [66:45]
A CD of cello music by the three Bs. And not any old three Bs, but three English Bs. It’s an apt coupling for all three composers were, in some ways, outsiders in their own time.
Frank Bridge’s Sonata was written in the romantic style he employed before the First World War, after which his style radicalised and became more elusive, aphoristic and, some would say, difficult - hence his being an outsider. This latter isn’t true and we can now understand his later music simply because, through recordings, we are able to assess his complete output. In two big movements, the second being both slow movement and finale, Bridge’s Sonata is brim full of tunes, welded to a glorious singing line for the cello. Moser allows himself time to relish the lyricism of the work, and he muses and sings to perfection. He obviously has a deep understanding of the work and it shows, for his command of the piece is second to none.
Bridge’s pupil, Benjamin Britten is credited with being the man who really put England back on the musical map. This isn’t totally true, there was much before him to do that, but perhaps it was Britten who brought English music to the world at large. His Cello Sonata was the first of five works he wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich. It’s a mysterious piece, starting with a very nervous and seemingly uncertain Dialogo. But nothing about Britten’s compositions can be said to be uncertain and his grip on the uneasiness of his material is masterly; a satisfying whole being made out of whispered secrets. The pizzicato Scherzo is jumpy and uncomfortable, with, perhaps, a slight sense of panic behind the seeming playful façade. Elegia is the heart of the work, with a bold climax and distant musings on the horizon. The final two movements change attitude. The fourth, a March, is grotesque and angular, whilst the final Moto perpetuo is a real headlong rush, the like of which is unusual in Britten’s music. As with the Bridge, Moser is very secure here, especially in the slow movement, which has a quiet authority.
It’s hard for any cellist who chooses to play these two works, let alone record them, for they were both recorded by Rostropovich with Britten at the piano. Their performance of the Bridge is available on Decca 4435752 (coupled with Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata) and the Britten Sonata is available on Decca 4218592 (coupled with the first two Solo Cello Suites). Anyone interested in Britten will already have these, I am sure, and, on no account must they be missed, but Moser’s interpretations come very close to the very high standard set by Rostropovich.
Bax was an outsider because of his being, in his own words, “a brazen romantic”, refusing to go the neo-classical and modernist way of so many of his contemporaries. This Legend-Sonata is a very late work - written only a few years before his death and at a time when his music had fallen from the full favour of the public and performers. This Sonata is free in form, displays some of the Celtic Twilight attitude which can be found in many of his works, and is light and delightful; there are no depths to be plumbed here. Moser gives a nicely understated performance, pointing the lyricism, for it is a tuneful piece, and allowing it to please.
This is a real find of an issue of English music. Moser and Rivinius make a fine duo partnership - and it is a partnership not a soloist with accompanist. The recording is very nicely balanced, and the notes are good. It’s reassuring to hear great English music played so well by non-English musicians. Perhaps the word is getting round that English music really can be as good as it sounds! Don’t miss this, it’s a very special issue, and I, for one, welcome it with open ears.
A very special issue.