Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for piano and violoncello in E flat major, op.64 (1794/1807) [42:16]

Works for mandolin and piano
Sonatine WoO 43a: Adagio [5:50]
Adagio ma non troppo WoO 43b [8:10]
Sonatine WoO 44a: Allegro [2:26]
Andante con variazioni WoO 44b [9:39]
Julius Berger (cello)
José Gallardo (piano)
rec. 12-14 March 2010, Konzertsaal der Universität Augsburg

Beethoven’s Sonata for piano and violoncello in E flat major, op.64 is an arrangement of his String Trio Op.3, probably by one Fr. X Kleinheinz. Arguments have gone on as to the provenance of this arrangement, but Julius Berger is clear in his booklet notes on the piece: ‘Based on my in-depth research and the many clues – which can be elucidated here only in part – I concur with Harro Schmidt, the editor of the sheet music publication by Schott Music Mainz (1984). In his preface he writes: “Contrary to all the traditional timidity in attribution and doubts about authenticity passed on to us by musicologists – Riemann, Hess and Kinsky, for example – I regard it as proven that we have here an arrangement that was created and published under the composer’s own eyes in BEETHOVEN’S IMMEDIATE SPHERE OF INFLUENCE.”’

Whatever the origins and circumstances of the arrangement, it is of the highest quality, and in the hands of Julius Berger and José Gallardo goes beyond mere charm and becomes a piece of considerable substance. There are the lighter Andante and Menuetto movements, but nothing is taken for granted by these players, and every expressive and dramatic point is made with eloquent and empathetic emphasis. The acoustic of the Konzertsaal der Universität Augsburg is rich and resonant, but this suits Beethoven’s micro cadences and little pointillist touches very well indeed. The cello and piano are beautifully balanced, and their interaction in this expert arrangement is exploited to the full, the thematic character of the music not overplayed, and the frequent accompanying function of the cello placed with the utmost sensitivity. The positively symphonic Allegro con brio first movement and admirably restrained central Adagio are done superbly, and the proportions of the piece are like wandering around in a space filled with reassuring golden-section architectural design.

The expressive power of the cello and piano in parts of Beethoven’s mandolin Sonatine Op.43 makes it hard to imagine the music played in its original instrumentation. There is a good version of this which does however prove the point on the Arts label, performed by Diego Fasolis and Duilio Galfetti. This is done with a period fortepiano, and shows how the resonance of a decently sized mandolin works extremely well in this combination. The booklet notes mention earlier arrangements for cello and piano of the music, which was written around 1796 by Beethoven for mandolin-playing Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringen of Prague. Stephen Isserlis has already made versions for cello and piano, and Julius Berger has made his own arrangements of the four pieces on this CD. Described as “Beethoven at his most elegant”, these are indeed works of melodic charm and a good deal of expressive soulfulness. The busy Allegro is great fun, and the Andante con variazioni is noble and stately and full of little surprises, but I think listeners may be most surprised at the gems to be discovered in the two Adagio movements which are stunningly gorgeous.

My only slight niggle with this CD is its title. The Op.64 sonata is by no means entirely unknown, and there are nice recordings to be found in a few ‘complete’ collections. The Finlandia label has a period recording with fortepiano played by Tuija Hakkila and cellist Anssi Karttunen which is very well produced and performed, and there is a nice budget modern instrument version on the Naxos label with cellist Maria Kliegel and pianist Nina Tichman (see reviews here and here). This is a little less succulent than the Challenge Classics label recording, but still a very respectable option. There is also an argument to be made that the musicians may at times have dug a little deeper and been a tad less precious with Beethoven’s notes, but I’ve greatly relished the refinement in both recording and performance of these works and know this is a disc which will provide real enjoyment for many years to come.

Dominy Clements

Guaranteed to provide long-term enjoyment.