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Jean-Baptiste BRÉVAL (1753-1823)
Six Sonatas for cello or violin and basso continuo, Op12 (1783) (arr. cello and piano by Fedor Amosov)
Fedor Amosov (cello)
Alexey Kurbatov (piano)
rec. March 2011, First Studio, GDRZ Culture, Moscow
CENTAUR CRC3195 [60:41]

You’ll need to arm yourself with a few salient facts if you come fresh to this Centaur release. Not only is there no reference to Jean-Baptiste Bréval’s dates of birth or death, there is also no reference to the year of publication of his six sonatas, Op.12. In fact there’s hardly anything at all, except a brief, exuberant comment from cellist Fedor Amosov as to why he likes these works so much, and then two large biographies of both him and pianist Alexey Kurbatov. I don’t normally carp on about such things, feeling the music is more important, but here the sonatas are pretty obscure, indeed not well known even to admirers of the composer, for whom the quartets, cello concertos and symphonies concertantes are by far the most rewarding parts of his work list. So it’s that much more important to help out the prospective purchaser.
 
That point duly noted, it surely wouldn’t have hurt Centaur to reprint a few details of the composer’s life. So the critic will have to do it instead. Cello soloist and orchestral player, he made his solo debut in Paris in 1778. He flourished as a composer between 1775 and 1805 - the sonatas were published in 1783 - and gave up performance in around 1814, to concentrate more on administration. For cellists the concertos are important but so too is his Traité du violoncello, Op.42, an instructional treatise of 1804 that remained influential.
 
The six sonatas were written for cello or violin and basso continuo. Amosov isn’t the first to arrange them, or some of them, for cello and piano; he spurned the opportunity to do so for harpsichord, for reasons which I find sympathetic: he decided they simply worked better with piano.
 
The recording is quite dry and close and catches the cellist’s frequent sniffs. If you are allergic to this aural phenomenon, you might have to tame your controls. Otherwise the balance between the two instruments is reasonable and the playing largely persuasive, though subject to some frailty when the cello passagework proves too onerous. Of the music, it’s easiest to say that it travels from the Baroque to the early Classical throughout the extent of these sonatas. Melodically the writing is charming, and lyrically things fall easily on the ear. Nothing outstays its welcome - indeed few movements last longer than four minutes - only one, in fact. Rhythms are buoyant, each three-movement sonata works well; dance movements such as Sicilianas and Minuets move forward at natural-sounding tempo. Except in the long Allegro of No.6, Amosov proves a willing guide to the works he has arranged. He clearly revels in the harmonically straightforward but lyrically ingratiating opportunities afforded him by Bréval, and Kurbatov keeps him necessarily discreet but effective company.
 
In short, and despite the imperfections already noted, much here is brief, but often delightfully so.
 
Jonathan Woolf 


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