Cello Music from Austria-Hungary
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47 Kreutzer (1803) arr. Cello by Carl Czerny and Auguste Franchomme [33:50]
Artur SCHNABEL (1882-1951)
Sonata for solo cello (1931) [26:14]
Emanuel MOR (1863-1931)
Ballade in E major, Op.171 (1913) [13:41]
Samuel Magill (cello)
Beth Levin (piano)
rec. March (Beethoven and Mor) and May (Schnabel) 2015, West Center Congregational Church, Bronxville, New York
NAVONA NV6024 [73:46]

This is a most inventively programmed triptych of works and therefore by no means the usual suspects of the cello repertoire. Austria-Hungary encloses Beethoven – represented not by one of the Cello Sonatas but by an arrangement of the Kreutzer Sonata – as well as Artur Schnabel, who was born to a German-speaking family in Moravia. Emanuel Mor was born in Hungary itself, the son of a cantor and well-known for inventing the double keyboard grand piano.

The Kreutzer arrangement was made by Carl Czerny at Beethoven’s request. Produced in 1822 for the cellist Joseph Linke and published by Simrock it was lost for 160 years, and only rediscovered in 1992. Later Auguste Franchomme, a composer in his own right and a most sensitive transcriber of Chopin’s music, and the man for whom Chopin wrote his Cello Sonata, produced his own version in association with the great pianist Louis Dimer. Interestingly, cellist Samuel Magill has – to use his word – converged both editions to produce a kind of hybrid third edition, and it’s this that he plays in this excellent performance with the attentive and commanding Beth Levin. The recording quality is warm, though it can spread slightly in the lower strings. And of course the cello is slower to respond and this leads to a certain congestion and heaviness. This is largely unavoidable and a corollary of the transcription. Magill and Levin play with finely calibrated responses and a true chamber give and take.Tempi are excellent.

Though it’s by no means ingratiating, Schnabel’s essentially atonal 1930-31 solo sonata has a number of interesting and idiosyncratic features that reward study. Its jagged phraseology and control of structure alike are impressive. So, too, is the powerfully accented scherzo, but the standout movement is the Larghetto, an austere but never cold lied. Magill’s playing here catches that expressive ambivalence perfectly. The recital ends with Mor’s Ballade in E major, written in 1913 for cello and orchestra and dedicated to Casals, and heard here in a world premiere recording. It wasn’t published until 2010. Cast in accustomed late-Romantic fashion it sports a B section of unbridled lyricism and, to take Magill’s suggestion in his fine notes, Hebraic chant. Some of the piano writing is especially lovely.

Adventurous and successful, this disc corrals three wildly disparate works under a handy geographical conceit.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John Quinn

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