Cello Duello
George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759) and Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935) Passacaglia [7:23]; Joseph HAYDN (1732-1802) Duet in D [13:34]; Jan MÜLLER-WIELAND (b.1966) Sonata for two cellos (1994) [13:22]; Jean-Baptiste BARRIÈRE (1705-1747) Sonata in G [9:36]; Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Duo in E Op 54 [18:27]; Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840) Moses Fantasy [8:40]; Ennio MORRICONE (b.1928) “Harmonica” from the film Once upon a time in the West [3:54]
Cello Duello - Jens Peter Maintz (cello); Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt (cello)
rec. Siemensvilla, Berlin, July 2010
SOLO MUSICA SM146 [75:25]

It can be argued that the sound of two unaccompanied cellos is one of the most sheerly beautiful sounds in music. If you take that view then this is clearly the kind of disc you have been waiting for. You will enjoy it all the more as in addition the music chosen is varied, interesting and attractive, the engineering is excellent and the notes, in German and English, tell you most of what you want to know about the music.

If this is not enough to tempt you let me expand a little. Although there is a substantial amount of music written for two unaccompanied cellos much falls into the category of useful rather than particularly inspired music for the student or for domestic use. Indeed of the music on this disc only the items by Müller-Wieland, Barrière and Offenbach were intended for this combination. The first of these was written for these performers and its three varied movements demonstrate different approaches to the medium, from the somewhat expressionist first movement to the more obvious dance effects in the last. The Sonata by Barrière is conventional but charming, especially its slow movement. The Offenbach is one of a series of Duets for his own instrument. Although the first movement is not of great interest and even somewhat stolid the others, especially the polonaise finale, are more what one might expect from this composer. This is one of the few reasonably well known pieces for these instruments and it is given a suitably alert performance here.

The Passacaglia which Halvorsen constructed out of the Chaconne from Handel’s Harpsichord Suite No. 7 was originally written for violin and cello but has been arranged for various string combinations since then. It is best to forget Handel’s contribution and simply enjoy it as a splendidly full-bodied piece for two virtuoso string players. Certainly I did enjoy it here with the players throwing themselves into it with great abandon. Paganini’s Fantasy on the Prayer from Rossini’s opera was originally for violin and piano but it too works well in this arrangement made, like all the others, by the players themselves. That leaves the Morricone in which the two soloists use multi-tracking to produce the sound of six cellos imitating the scoring of the film which included a mouth-organ and an electric guitar. It is great fun and makes a suitable finale for an entertaining programme. As I said at the start, if you enjoy the combination of instruments you will certainly enjoy this disc, especially as the programme is arranged so that it can be listened to as a whole with no danger of monotony. Others might be a little concerned at a certain lack of musical weight but they would be denying themselves much pleasure if they let that put them off.

John Sheppard

If you enjoy this combination of instruments you will certainly enjoy this disc … it can be listened to with no danger of monotony.