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Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38 (1862-5) [26:32]
Vier ernste Gesänge, Op.21 (arr. Shafran) [18:08]
Hungarian Dance No.20 in E minor, WoO1 (arr. Piatti) [2:54]
Cello Sonata No.2 in F major, Op.99 [26:25]
Bartholomew LaFollette (cello)
Caroline Palmer (piano)
rec. 2015, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex

Bartholomew La Follette is a young British-American cellist who has chosen Brahms’ music for cello and piano as the material for his debut album. In a program note he indicates that the two sonatas have long been personal favorites and were “naturals” for his first recording.

The Sonata in E minor was written in the years 1862-1865 when Brahms was experimenting with different forms, i.e. the Piano Quintet, and is his first sonata for an instrument besides the piano. However, it is a true sonata for cello and piano with a Schumannesque first theme and an alternately dance-like and yearning second theme. The contrast between serious and playful is maintained in the allegretto quasi menuetto second movement before reaching a more Romantic conclusion. Brahms originally intended this movement to be preceded by an actual slow movement but decided to take this out (it became the slow movement of the Sonata No. 2 many years later). The last movement is a mixture of sonata and fugue forms and moves propulsively but, as is typical in this sonata, has many lyrical and tender episodes. LaFollette takes a somewhat measured approach to the sonata, saving his more impassioned playing for moments such as the first movement’s development section and the middle of the second movement. His energy is most evident in the fugal sections of the last movement.

The Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Brahms’ last major work, was originally written for baritone and piano. As a cello work the pieces have magnificent melodies and retain the great seriousness of the songs but something is lost without the words. However, LaFollette brings out all the appropriate instrumental elements on his performance, as he does in the transcription of the Hungarian Dance No. 20.

La Follette is a little less restrained in his treatment of the Sonata No. 2 than he is in the first sonata. The first movement is played passionately throughout and the passion continues in the middle section of the slow movement. However, LaFollette ably contrasts this with the ghostly opening and closing sections of this movement. (This is the slow movement from the original version of the E-minor sonata). The third movement is mostly stormy and here LaFollette is not as energetic as he could be, although he is better is the lyrical middle section, as he is in the somewhat mysterious last movement.

LaFollette is well supported by the accompaniment of Caroline Palmer and by a close-in recording in the Music Room at Champs Hill. In all, a splendid debut for Bartholomew LaFollette, a cellist to watch for in the future.

William Kreindler



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