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Hyperion Records

CDA67633 - Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1
Pietrasanta C07.26 (2007 Mixed media on canvas) by Caio Fonseca (b1959)
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist / www.caiofonseca.com
CDA67633

Recording details: January 2008
Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: November 2008
Total duration: 77 minutes 26 seconds

DAILY TELEGRAPH CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK

GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE

'Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt give Beethoven's first three cello sonatas a nimble and colourful outing … their duo engagement is compelling and their repertoire of gestures … is exceedingly broad … the recorded sound is beautifully balanced' (Gramophone)

'The success of this duo partnership is very evident in this first volume of Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt's Beethoven cycle. They respond with imagination and flexibility to Beethoven's mercurial changes of mood, one moment tender and reflective, then bold and dynamic … a first class release' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Müller-Schott's playing is strong and vibrant … Hewitt brings her characteristic digital dexterity and sparkling articulation to bear … the performances certainly make one look forward to their second disc' (International Record Review)

'In Hyperion's first release in a Beethoven cello sonata cycle, Daniel Müller-Schott's cello seems to hug you like a friendly bear … the disc collects the two Op 5 sonatas and the magnificent Op 69; cherish it most for the players' teasing exchanges, for Hewitt's nimble fingers and Müller-Schott's golden warmth' (The Times)

'The dynamic duo find overwhelming intensity in this music, in a performance packed with detail and emotional gravitas' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Here we are then, at the launch of a wonderful musical adventure, with the outstanding and exquisitely soulful young cellist Danel Müller-Schott, partnered by the wondrous Angela Hewitt at her most sparkling, pristine, warm and flawlessly penetrating in very superior accounts of the two Opus 5 sonatas and the Opus 69 in A major … a major collaboration' (The Herald)

'Müller-Schott has a superbly eloquent and deliciously burnished tone, as nicely done as any I have ever heard … Angela Hewitt proves the perfect partner in this music with a sensitive and leading-when-necessary role that makes for a grand coupling. These might be the premiere Beethoven Cello Sonatas recordings when they are completed—this one is that good' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'The whole recital is characterised by exquisite phrasing, clean lines and, best of all, an expressiveness that borders on the sublime' (bbc.co.uk)

Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1
Rondo: Allegro  [9'02]
Allegro vivace  [6'55]

Angela Hewitt has taken time out from her impossibly busy solo concert schedule (including her stunningly successful Bach World Tour) to record a dazzling chamber disc with one of the greatest young cellists of today. Daniel Müller-Schott’s rise to fame has been well documented in the world’s press. His fastidious, clean-lined, yet energetic playing is the perfect foil for Angela’s particular artistry.

In their first Hyperion CD together, they present Volume 1 of Beethoven’s complete cello sonatas. Beethoven’s first three cello sonatas astonished his contemporaries with their dramatically innovative qualities. Before he wrote them, there were virtually no works in which the cello fully broke away from its subservient role of basso continuo to become an equal partner to the piano. They are works of extraordinary breadth and grandeur. Writing of the Sonata in A major Op 69, the two artists explain that ‘the dialogue between the two instruments reaches perfection, and demands the highest level of communication and expressiveness’. This is surely achieved in this splendid recording.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In 1792 Beethoven left his Rhineland home in Bonn and moved to the imperial city of Vienna. He quickly established his fame as a pianist, and within a few years was surrounded by admirers and patrons. Among them was Prince Lichnowsky, who had been a pupil of Mozart, and in whose home Beethoven stayed for a while. In 1796 the young pianist embarked on a major concert tour (indeed the only one of his career) which took him first to Prague, and then to Dresden, Leipzig, and finally Berlin. Prince Lichnowsky was anxious for Beethoven to remain in Berlin for a while and to be presented to King Friedrich Wilhelm II. The king was a keen cellist and employed some of the very best musicians at his court. Seven years earlier the Prince had taken Mozart to the court—a visit which resulted in several string quartets with prominent cello parts. Haydn’s visit in 1787 yielded similar results.

Among the musicians employed by the king was the cellist Jean-Pierre Duport, who was later joined by his brother Jean-Louis. Voltaire was struck by the latter’s playing—‘Sir, you make me believe in miracles, for you turn an ox into a nightingale’—while Christian Schubart gave this evocative description of Jean-Pierre’s playing: ‘He guides the bow as in a storm, and rains down notes. He plays beyond the end of the fingerboard, finally disappearing into the sweetest notes of the flageolet.’ Unlike Mozart and Haydn, however, Beethoven didn’t respond by writing a string quartet, but characteristically took a totally new direction and audaciously composed two sonatas for piano and cello (he entitled them thus) in which both instruments are equal partners. The premieres, given by Jean-Louis Duport and Beethoven at the royal court in early 1797, must have been remarkable occasions.

In chamber music until that time the cello had played the role of basso continuo, adding weight to a bass line, but having little to do as a soloist. There are exceptions, of course, notably the sonatas of Vivaldi, Geminiani and Boccherini (one of the best virtuoso cellists of his day, also sponsored by Friedrich Wilhelm), and above all Johann Sebastian Bach’s sonatas for the cello’s predecessor, the viola da gamba. Yet prior to Beethoven, there were virtually no works in which the cello fully broke away from its subservient role of basso continuo to become an equal partner to the piano. Apart from the musical problems of the emancipation of the cello part in his new sonatas, Beethoven was faced with an acoustical problem, namely that of balance. Cellos, with their gut strings, had remained essentially the same, but the piano’s mechanical action was constantly developing, resulting in a more voluminous sound. This meant that the composer had to pay special attention to balance, because there was a danger of the cello being completely overshadowed, particularly when both instruments played in the same register. In all five of his cello sonatas Beethoven solved this problem in a masterful way.

Beethoven allows the cello and piano to play in dialogue, sharing the melodic and narrative material between both instruments. Although in his early cello sonatas he does not include a full-blown slow movement, of which there are so many beautiful examples in the early piano sonatas—this does not happen until his final cello sonata in D major, Op 102 No 2—there is plenty of atmospheric writing for the cello in the substantial slow introductions and bridge passages. Beethoven also carries over characteristics of his three Sturm und Drang piano sonatas Op 2 to the cello writing in Op 5. He makes full use of the dynamic range of the cello, from pianissimo to fortissimo, including mighty crescendos and climaxes, and throughout there is enormous rhythmic energy, emphasized by the numerous sforzati.

Both Op 5 sonatas, published by Artaria in Vienna in 1797, begin with a slow introduction, and that to the Sonata in F major, Op 5 No 1 is marked Adagio sostenuto. The opening is tentative until the cello breaks out into three bars of what it does best: singing a sustained melody. But this is tantalizingly brief, and for the rest of the introduction, it mostly accompanies the piano and its fantasia-like figurations. The ensuing Allegro opens with a deliciously fresh theme in the piano, the descending scale and upwards arpeggio of which are taken from the introduction. A hint of minor tonality is introduced by the cello in the second theme. Indeed, the swift changes between major and minor are almost Mozartian, but the broken octaves in the piano part are pure Beethoven. Another theme, introduced before the end of the exposition, is simple but charming in its use of syncopation.

The development section finds us suddenly in A major with obvious delight. But then things get stormy and the cello growls in the lower register. There is a wonderful bridge passage in D flat major which takes us quite by surprise, followed by a chromatic ascent and a sudden fortissimo at the return of the theme. After the recapitulation, rather as we would expect in a concerto, a pause introduces a cadenza-like passage for both instruments—probably the first joint cadenza written for cello and piano. Those upward arpeggios reappear in a brief return to the Adagio tempo. But high spirits win the day, and after some virtuoso flourishes in both instruments (marked Presto), the opening theme returns to give us a brief but brilliant coda.

Both of the Op 5 sonatas have finales that are rustic in flavour, where the good smells and fresh air of the countryside are not far away. The Rondo of the F major, marked Allegro vivace, is a merry dance in 6/8 time with some nice imitation at the beginning. It is far from well-behaved, however. The middle section is a country dance in B flat minor after which the action almost stops while the cello drones away on an open fifth, and the piano has those rising arpeggios again. The second time this happens we are led directly to the coda, which, like the whole movement, demands virtuoso playing from both participants, except for a brief reminiscence of quieter moments shortly before the end.

If the introduction of the F major sonata is a little hesitant, no such thing can be said of the Allegro sostenuto ed espressivo that opens the Sonata in G minor, Op 5 No 2. Besides being twice as long, it is also full of dramatic gestures, from the opening forte-piano chords to the rather spooky descending scales in the right hand of the piano, which halfway through are taken up by the cello and the piano’s left hand, accompanied by swirling figures reminiscent of Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor K396. In the seventh bar the cello sings an achingly sorrowful line which, when it returns in A flat major later on, becomes unbearably tender. Long, pregnant silences at the end of this arresting introduction make us hold our breath and wonder what is to come next. What follows is an equally startling movement marked Allegro molto più tosto presto. The cello now introduces the theme, answered by the piano, sorrowful but questioning. But in no time we have an explosion of energy, with obsessive triplets in the piano part below a defiant theme in the cello. It is wonderful how Beethoven shifts the themes between cello and piano, letting the latter introduce the more playful second theme. Like in the early piano sonatas, there is lots here that would have been new to contemporary listeners. It is clear that Beethoven is writing for his own virtuosity at the piano, and revelling in showing off what the cellist can do as well. Halfway through the development section he introduces another theme—more dancing, slightly humorous—but soon takes us to the recapitulation, writing a bridge section using the last four notes of the principal theme. The coda returns briefly to the haunting mood of the introduction before ending with the initial theme, previously only presented quietly, but now fortissimo and uncompromising.

Another quick movement follows, but the mood is highly contrasted. Moving away from those incessant triplets, Beethoven gives us something much more ‘square’ and also slightly naïve. The piano starts jauntily, teasing us with C major before arriving in the tonic key. The cello makes its entrance as an accompanist, but soon has two grand flourishes of its own. After a cantabile second theme, darkness enters with a restless passage in D minor, leading us back to the initial Rondo theme, this time jointly presented by both instruments. The middle section of this movement presents a new theme in C major that, on the piano, skips easily upwards, but which on the cello is rather more technically challenging, as are the rippling arpeggios and scales that follow. Beethoven can’t let this movement go without some more virtuoso displays, all done in good humour. He does pause, however, to give us a short utterance of what could be an expression of gratitude for the beauties of the earth—before one last brilliant flourish.

The Sonata in A major, Op 69 dates from some twelve years later. In 1808, at the age of thirty-eight, Beethoven was in the middle of what we call his ‘heroic’ period, during which he created some of his greatest works. Indeed, the sketches of this sonata are found among those of his Symphony No 5, Op 67. But the openings of these two pieces could hardly be more different. The symphony starts with that famous explosion of defiance, while the sonata begins with the cello alone, singing an expansive and noble melody that only Beethoven could have written. The overall character of the sonata is closer to that of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony No 6, Op 68.

The opening cello line descends, before the piano enters and rises to a pause, where there is a short cadenza-like passage. The roles are then reversed, with the piano singing the melody in octaves, and the cello having its own mini-cadenza. Then the real action begins, with an energetic, tense passage in the minor leading to the second subject. Bach isn’t far away here: upward scales in one instrument are in counterpoint with a slower, descending arpeggio in the other—neither of which dominates until the cello breaks out with some longing sighs. An obviously ‘heroic’ theme then presents itself, first in the piano, accompanied by pizzicatos in the cello. The bridge before the double-bar already prepares us for the gentleness of the opening theme when repeated.

In a copy of the sonata given to its dedicatee, the Baron von Gleichenstein, Beethoven wrote the epigraph ‘inter lacrymas et luctus’ (‘amid tears and sorrow’). This surely referred to the political climate of the day (and Beethoven’s disillusionment with Napoleon), rather than anything funereal in the sonata. Nevertheless, it seems particularly apt for the development section of this movement, where Beethoven uses the descending notes taken from the third and fourth bars of his initial theme and turns them into a quote from Bach’s alto aria ‘Es ist vollbracht’ (‘It is finished’) from the St John Passion. There is, however, no evidence that Beethoven knew this work. But we find the same motif in the Arioso in the slow movement of his Piano Sonata Op 110, marked Klagender Gesang (Arioso dolente). Whether or not it was done consciously, what is certain is that it is a moment of great poignancy, turned briefly into a storm when both instruments play fortissimo. Bach’s influence seems to continue in the passage leading back to the recapitulation where the cello theme is now embroidered by the piano’s right hand. A magical moment comes at the coda when, instead of ending the movement immediately, Beethoven has both cello and piano playing the theme in D major. What follows that moment is reminiscent of the bridge passage in the fifth symphony between the scherzo and finale. An almost unbearable tension slowly grows and is finally released when the theme is presented triumphantly, now back in the tonic key. More distant rumblings—low in the cello, high in the piano—take place before Beethoven brings this remarkable movement to a brilliant finish.

The second movement is a wild Scherzo in A minor, marked Allegro molto. The (more or less) same material is presented three times in a row with the briefest of codas tacked on at the end. The tied notes in both instruments pose a bit of a dilemma. Are they to be repeated or not? On the cello a slight re-emphasis on the note is possible. On the piano this considerably weakens the effect and the rhythm. Beethoven’s fingering (a change from fourth to third finger while holding the same note) is perhaps a warning not to release the note too soon rather than an indication to hear it a second time. This is a truly orchestral-sounding scherzo, especially in the major section where it is not hard to imagine horns and woodwinds taking part in the dialogue. The coda is a sure sign that some devilish, or at least ghostly, presence has been at work in this very original movement.

Once again Beethoven denies the cello-piano duo a true slow movement. The melody of the Adagio cantabile could surely have been the beginning of something great, but we must be satisfied with a glimpse of heaven rather than a trip there. Before we know it, the final Allegro vivace is upon us. This is one of those fantastic finales in which Beethoven combines his unstoppable high spirits with lofty thoughts, and where virtuosity is never an end in itself (as in the finale of his Piano Concerto No 4 in G major). The dialogue between the two instruments reaches perfection, and demands the highest level of communication and expressiveness. A year after this piece was finished, Beethoven said he had still not heard a good public performance of it. Perhaps he had to wait until 1812 when it was played by his pupil Carl Czerny and the cellist Joseph Linke, who would later premiere his last two cello sonatas. Today it is one of the most loved of all chamber music sonatas, and cellists count themselves fortunate to have been presented with something so incomparably beautiful.

Angela Hewitt & Daniel Müller-Schott © 2008


Other albums in this series
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67518)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67605)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67755)
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (SACDA67605)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Buy by post £10.50 This album is not yet available for download SACDA67605  Super-Audio CD  
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3' (CDA67797)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4' (CDA67974)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4
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