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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Cello Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 5 [26:12]
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5 [30:32]
Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69 [28:40]
Cello Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102 No. 1 [15:30]
Cello Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102 No. 2 [19:19]
Alessandro Andriani (cello, Ferdinando Gagliano, 1782)
Mario Sollazzo (fortepiano, Joseph Brodmann c. 1805 and Johann Schanz c. 1820)
rec. 2019, Abbazia San Martino delle Scale, Monreale. Italy
NOVA ANTIQUA NA20 [2 CDs: 120:34]

The good thing about this anniversary year for Beethoven is the number of new original instruments recordings that are appearing in the catalogue. Here, we have the sonatas for cello and fortepiano in the second recording to arrive in less than a month, the other by Nicolas Altstaedt and Alexander Lonquich on Alpha, was reviewed recently in these pages by Mark S. Zimmer. From the off, the Alpha release has a clear advantage in that it also includes the three sets of variations for cello and piano, something sadly missing here, a real shame. However, Mark comments in his review of the Alpha disc that “the imbalance between the keyboard and the cello makes that prospect more difficult than it should be.” None of that problem here, with the recording well balanced, if a little close, I had to turn the volume down a little from my normal setting. What is more, the period cello and both original fortepianos are in good voice, with a nice clean sound, with the well-chosen instruments blending together well.

As with so may of Beethoven’s compositions, the works for cello and piano fall into three periods, early middle and late. He composed the first two sonatas in 1796 whilst in Berlin, where King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia was a keen cellist and where it is known that Beethoven partnered Jean Louis Duport, one of the king’s cellists in the sonata’s premieres. Contemporary with the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Sonata in A Major was composed in 1808, whilst the final two sonatas were composed around the compositionally lean period in 1815, although tweaked a little with a fresh copy appearing in early 1816, there were a final few alterations before their eventual publication by Simrock in Bonn. The final two represent his final flourish of his compositional development, with the listeners of Classic Fm (UK) have voted the D Major Sonata into the top three cello works of all time.

The performances are very good, even if the tempos are a little on the slow side, with excellent intonation and sense of ensemble, which comes from long experience of playing together. Their interpretation is excellent, I particularly like the way that they intone the opening Allegro ma non tanto and how the manage the transition into the Scherzo, of the Op. 69 Sonata, whilst their performance of the Adagio cantabile is a model of control. The same can be said of the D Major Sonata, which despite its accolades, has never been my favourite, quite wonderful control throughout with flashes of brilliance to bring the best out of the work. Yes, as already stated, their tempos are fairly sedate at times, but despite this the works never seem to drag, it also allows them to emphasise the changes in tempo of the differing sections of the separate movements, and therefore, still playing with a deal of panache and excitement.

The production values are also very good, with the recorded sound being excellent and well balanced, whilst the booklet is informative and well laid out. The CD case itself might not be to everyone’s taste, its double gatefold cardboard cover containing no plastic, apart from the discs themselves. However, in this age when we are all trying to use less plastic, it is ideal and hold the two discs and the booklet well and securely, and if like me you have too many CDs, it is ideal at saving space. So a well performed and engineered recording of the five sonatas, the only gripe being the lack of the variations, although on a plus, there is a QR-code in the back of the booklet that seems to allow you to download the mp3 audio files onto your mobile device, phone or laptop, so you can have the music on the move, although I haven’t tried this yet.

Stuart Sillitoe

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