Already having made his mark elsewhere, including in
with Melnikov (and Isabelle Faust), we now have Jean-Guihen Queyras’ assault on the complete sonatas of Beethoven, or rather, the complete works for cello and piano. It is generous of Harmonia Mundi to include in the package the three sets of variations, too. This set also carries the advantage of presenting the works chronologically, making it easy for us to chart Beethoven's development in the form. This ranges from the early variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen
through to the complex dramas of final pair of sonatas. That's a genuine perk. In the Mädchen
variations the vast bulk of the work falls to the piano, while often the cello serves as mere accompaniment, but by the second disc you hear piano and cello interacting as true partners. Incidentally, in all of the variations, it's wonderful seeing how Beethoven transforms his themes into something really rather remarkable. It's most notable in See the Conqu’ring Hero
, which he manages to turn into something memorably lyrical and compelling.
Queyras and Melnikov prove excellent partners throughout. The first sonata, for example, seems to open (in unison) with a question in its slow beginning, but then develops into a wonderfully carefree first movement and a skittish second. Op. 5 No. 2 is uncommonly full of drama, with an intense introduction that serves for a slow movement in itself. The main allegro is passionate and well worked out, while in the second movement Queyras manages to suggest a serious strain lying beneath the superficially cheerful facade.
The tone of the A major sonata, on the other hand, is beautifully mellow, and seems perfectly suited to Queyras’ warm, welcoming cello tone. In the opening Allegro Melnikov's piano playing sounds repeatedly subversive and contrary, as if trying to drag the music off in a different direction, and the dialectic works really well. That sense of recklessness really helps to energise the ensuing scherzo and, after a gorgeously played slow introduction, the ingeniously witty finale.
There is something profoundly meditative about the introduction to No. 4: we are into the composer's later style here, and both Queyras and Melnikov revel in the music's mystery before launching into a muscular, intelligent Allegro that is propelled by its own momentum. That mood of meditation returns beautifully at the start of the second movement, before introducing another thoughtful, determined Allegro that bustles forwards with piano and cello as equal partners. In a set that is rather thin on genuine slow movements, that of No. 5 is a real treat — probing, delicate and thoughtful — before giving way to a finale that is distinguished by a very careful working out of its ideas, serious in its counterpoint, but never to the point of being purely academic.
Melnikov has already proved himself such a sensitive, thoughtful accompanist to Isabelle Faust in the complete violin sonatas, here shows himself to be just as fine a partner in the cello sonatas. Queyras is a flexible, vibrant cellist, full of the vigour and emotion of the early works, but the passion of the late works does not elude him either. This set confirms Queyras as an estimable talent with a lot to offer. The presentation and documentation are up to HM’s usual high standards.