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Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
Cello Sonata No. 1, Op. 38, in E minor [27:56]
Cello Sonata No. 2, Op. 99, in F [28:59]
Cello Sonata, Op. 78, in D [18:18] (arr. Klengel, two movements excerpt)
Karine Georgian (cello)
Pavel Gililov (piano)
rec. 1989 (Op. 78), 1990 (Op. 38 & 99), Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Programme
ALTO ALC1352 [75:14]

Cello Sonata No. 1, Op. 38, in E minor [27:56]
Cello Sonata No. 2, Op. 99, in F [28:59]
Maja Weber (cello)
Per Lundberg (piano)
rec. 2016, Radiostudio Zürich
SOLO MUSICA SM269 [53:51]

That Brahms considered the violoncello as “my instrument” – based on personal correspondences with his Viennese colleague, Richard Heuberger – aptly reflects the composer’s partiality toward the instrument among his output, e.g. Double Concerto. Unsurprisingly, then, Brahms’ two numbered cello sonatas are inspired works, and amalgamations of the composer’s early and late stylistic periods from which they were respectively conceived.

The popular and melodic first sonata is played with unforced maturity in both accounts of the discs concerned. It is Georgian and Gililov that present a more dramatic picture, not via amplified expression per se, but such that the first two movements, shaped in a mellow cast of broad tempi, are followed by a relatively bracing Allegro especially from Gililov’s side. Yet given the echoing acoustics and treble-sharp recording of Biddulph/ALTO in addition to the inherent balance issues within the composition, Gililov’s virtuosic prowess here seems more protruding than enlightening. Comparatively, the empathic Lundberg not only brings out more of Weber, but also gives a distinctively Bachian contour to the last movement in his controlled clarity. (Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge is said to have been an inspiration of the composition). Elsewhere, Weber and Lundberg achieve a wondrously crafted performance of immaculate partnership in their concentrated flow and sobriety. For instance, their decision to play the lyrical trio section of the Allegretto quasi Menuetto in strict time, unlike that of Georgian and Gililov who decelerate considerably in the same section, is refreshing in effect. Weber’s deutlich tone, confident and rich, is dynamically aware and varified in texture, despite a moment of hesitation between bars 115 and 122 (starting around 03’55”) of the last movement.

Similar things can be said about the second sonata, a work which much like other late compositions of Brahms received much skepticism from enemies and allies of the composer alike. (Hugo Wolf’s brute deriding of the second cello sonata as a tohuwabohu – total chaos or hullabaloo – may not be entirely senseless given Schoenberg’s objective analysis of the piece that “the syncopation and the unorthodox intervals [make] the work difficult to understand.”). Facing such elusive work, Georgian and Gililov are clear in their willingness to breathe in vigour by maximizing the various diminuendos and dynamic markings. Nowhere is their sense of spontaneity more marked than in the Adagio affetuoso; the slow burning intensity of the expansively taken central section is prolonged into the returning subjects. A Romantic reading as it were – although not quite the larger-than-life rendition of Rostropovich and Serkin or the obvious enthusiasm of Jacqueline du Pré and Barenboim – it is, paradoxically, the more straightforward playing of Weber and Lundberg that leaves a lasting impression. The Adagio, taken more than a minute faster than that of Georgian and Gililov, generates an integrated momentum throughout the movements, resulting in a finale that is thoroughly satisfying as much as it is joyful. Once again the velvet depth of Weber’s Stradivari-Cello “Suggia” forms a formidable unity with Lundberg’s clear-eyed poeticism.

The disc by Georgian and Gililov further includes the last two movements of a cello-piano transcription of Brahms’ affectionate first violin sonata, which is convincingly played. The stellar musicianship and extended playtime presented in the disc by Gergian and Gililov notwithstanding, it is theplaying of Weber and Lundberg that remains in my thoughts.

Young-Jin Hur (@yjhur1885)



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