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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 (1865) [26.00]
Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99 (1886) [27.42]
DuoLeonore (Maja Weber (cello), Per Lundberg (piano))
rec. 2016, Radiostudio, Zürich
SOLO MUSICA SM269 [53.51]

DuoLeonore comprising of cellist Maja Weber and pianist Per Lundberg has chosen for its Solo Musica album two Brahms works that are cornerstones of the cello and piano repertoire. The two cello sonatas come from very different periods in Brahms’s life as their completion dates are some twenty years apart. Indisputably the cello sonatas have proved to be enduringly popular in concert and on record. Having played in chamber groups for many years in 2014 Weber and Lundberg formed DuoLeonore choosing a name that acknowledges the valuable contribution Beethoven made to cello/piano repertory.

The three movement Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor has been described as a pastoral work with elegiac overtones. Brahms composed the work between 1862-65, an especially fertile period which included the composition of the String Sextet No. 2, Op. 36; Piano Quintet, Op. 34; Cantata: Rinaldo, Op. 50 and the mighty Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. Evidently Brahms rejected a second movement Adagio he had written for the score. It has been contended that the Adagio was later reused in the F major Cello Sonata albeit in a different key. In the extended opening movement of the E minor Sonata the duo’s playing is certainly convincing adeptly bringing out the brooding and ruminative character of the writing. Coming as a welcome relief from the tension the Allegretto quasi Menuetto feels Mendelssohnian, near elfin-like in character, and is given a charming interpretation of impressive spontaneity. In the concluding movement, a robust mixture of fugue and sonata form, the duo take the squally music by the ‘scruff of the neck’ performing with vigour and absolute commitment.

Expansive in form and extrovert in character the four movement Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major was composed in 1886 and is a very different proposition to the earlier E minor Sonata. Brahms completed the score during his highly productive summer holiday at Hofstetten, near Thun, where he also composed two other of his best-loved chamber masterpieces, the radiant Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 100; and the terse and passionate Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 101. If the brooding and nostalgic E minor Sonata shows Brahms as a relatively young man presenting his credentials as composer and man of the world, then the whirlwind concentrated energy of the F major Sonata is the work of a mature man composing music with all the passion and sweep of youth. Biographer Walter Niemann described the exclamations of the cello in the extraordinarily bold opening movement of the F major Sonata as, “outcries, and appeals of wild agitation.” With the instruments firmly pitted against each other the duo robustly conveys the windswept rather feverish character of the writing. The soaring melodies at the heart of the glorious Adagio performed by Weber on her Stradivari ‘Bonamy Dobree-Suggia’ (1717) are especially glowing. Powerful and dark in character the Scherzo is given a spirited performance with a strong sense of purpose. In the concluding movement Allegro molto striking is the duo’s sense of determination and resilience. From Radiostudio, Zürich the sound quality is most acceptable although the duo is perhaps a touch too closely recorded and ideally requires additional warmth. The sleeve notes are excellent containing a couple of essays and there is a biography of each player.

Not surprisingly for such popular works there are numerous accounts of Brahms’ cello sonatas available in the record catalogue. The best-known recordings, all worthy of praise too, are from the heavyweight partnerships of Harrell and Kovacevich on EMI Classics, du Pré and Barenboim on (Warner) EMI Classics; Ma and Ax on RCA Victor Red Seal and Rostropovich and Serkin on Deutsche Grammophon. Nevertheless, my first recommendation is for the much lesser known, yet no less penetrating interpretations, from cellist Pieter Wispelwey and pianist Paul Komen on Channel Classics. Using original instruments these 1992 Renswoude accounts from Wispelwey and Komen provides me with considerable new insights into the scores.

DuoLeonore performs the Brahms Cello Sonatas impressively throughout, stylish and unexaggerated but the competition in the record catalogue is fierce and firmly established.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Young-Jin Hur



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