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Hyperion Records

CDA67755 - Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2
Pietrasanta P07.44 (2007) by Caio Fonseca (b1959)
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist / www.caiofonseca.com
CDA67755
Recording details: March 2009
Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: March 2010
Total duration: 70 minutes 59 seconds

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK

'These performances are strongly characterised, clearly etched and full of life and drama. The account of the D major Sonata's great, sombre Adagio is powerfully eloquent … with Müller-Schott demonstrating a breathtaking control of subtle changes in tone and dynamic level' (Gramophone)

'Once again Müller-Schott and Hewitt deliver strong and committed performances characterised by great attention to detail and wonderful musical interaction. The three sets of variations are projected with charm, elegance and virtuosity' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Absorbing interpretations, where the two players instinctively click and the music comes across with vibrancy, sensitivity and a galvanising unanimity of purpose' (The Daily Telegraph)

'They project the D major [D major sonata] middle section as the ray of light it is. Then they excel in projecting the final fugue clearly, while giving free rein to its sharp cross-accents and registral leaps. Here, Müller-Schott brings a steely intensity to his high passages and an effective growling colour to those down below, while Hewitt deploys her Bachian expertise to advantage, yet conveys Beethoven's counterpoint as pianistically spikier and more rebarbative' (International Record Review)

'Müller-Schott is certainly one of the finest cellists before the public today, and this is his core native repertory. The performances have the winning freshness of rediscovery' (The Sunday Times)

Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2
Andante –  [2'46]
Allegro vivace  [5'14]
Allegro vivace  [4'30]
Allegro con brio  [6'53]

The mercurial partnership of Angela Hewitt and Daniel Müller-Schott brought ‘overwhelming intensity and emotional gravitas’ to a first disc of Beethoven’s cello sonatas. Here in a second volume they present two more of these ground-breaking masterpieces, together with the composer’s homages to Mozart and Handel—works which are equally important additions to the cello repertoire.

Hewitt’s characteristic digital dexterity and deep understanding of the classical style and Müller-Schott’s vibrant playing combine to create performances of great energy and sensitivity that will delight their many fans.

In a fascinating booklet note, Daniel Müller-Schott explores the evolution of Beethoven’s works for cello from a musician’s perspective, describing their revolutionary power and demonstrating the composer’s multifarious imagination [‘Mannigfachphantastische’].


Other recommended albums
'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67633)
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1
'Dvořák: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2' (CDA67572)
Dvořák: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2
'Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 1' (CDA67719)
Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 1
'Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 2' (CDA67757)
Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 2
'Mozart: Piano Trios' (CDA67609)
Mozart: Piano Trios

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Everyone is familiar with Ludwig van Beethoven’s groundbreaking achievements in the piano sonata, the string quartet, the symphony, and the violin repertoire. But he also rendered outstanding services to the literature for cello, and may justifiably be seen as the creator of the modern cello sonata. Between 1796 and 1815 he produced five large-scale sonatas, more than any other composer of stature. Each of them is a masterpiece in itself—and it is always a revelation for any musician to experience the evolution shown by these works. The sonatas in C major and D major, both composed in the summer of 1815, mark the conclusion of Beethoven’s work in the genre, while also standing on the threshold of his final creative period.

An important factor in his return to the form of the cello sonata was certainly the composer’s social environment. The dedicatee of the two sonatas Op 102, Countess Anna Maria Erdödy, organized regular musical gatherings at her summer residence in Jedlesee near Vienna, to which Beethoven was invited. The countess herself was a pianist, and at that time she employed the cellist and music teacher Joseph Linke (1783–1837), a member of the Razumovsky Quartet and later principal cellist at the Theater an der Wien. The forty-five-year-old composer’s close involvement in these chamber music events explains why he complied with the request to write a duo sonata for this formation. Nevertheless, the late cello sonatas are directly indebted to the artist’s sheer joy in experimentation, his desire to create something entirely new and unprecedented in the genre and satisfy his need for subtly varied composition.

These works came after a fairly lengthy creative hiatus, which may perhaps be another reason why, in their own way, they display Beethoven’s new radical style. A reviewer in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung dated 11 November 1818 wrote that the sonatas were ‘among the most unusual and peculiar that have been written for a long time’. In the course of the article, the writer’s initial slight reticence is transformed into the utmost admiration for and endorsement of Beethoven’s visionary creation: ‘Remember the so-called “keyboard symphonies” and similar works of Sebastian Bach; then imagine them without the prevailing taste of his time as regards instrumental music in general … and endow what is left over, not with the style of the old master (easily understandable for all its internal variety), but with the multifarious imagination … of the great new master: then you will perhaps have some idea [of the style of Beethoven’s works].’

In point of fact, six years after writing the Sonata in A major Op 69, Beethoven did want his late sonatas to express greater ‘variety’ in their musical resources. In the autograph manuscript of the Sonata in C major Op 102 No 1, his annotation ‘Freje Sonate’ (Free sonata) already announces a new orientation. The two-movement form of this sonata is much stricter and more condensed in structure than that of the early sonatas. It is true that Beethoven had already successfully carried out the idea of having the first fast movement follow on directly from the slow introduction in his Op 5 sonatas. However, now he does not merely assign the cello short rhythmic interjections as an introduction, but lets it play a wonderful cantabile theme which is at once taken up by the piano. The two instruments then engage in dialogue around this theme, which will be recalled in surprising fashion at a later point, in the middle of the sonata. In this introductory Andante, Beethoven uses the stylistic device of the fermata in four different ways, thus creating an intense impression that both instruments are pausing in contemplation. The Allegro vivace in A minor, which follows without a break, shatters this meditative atmosphere and impresses with its sheer rhythmic force. In order to accommodate the explosive energy of the movement in dynamic terms, Beethoven marked the cello and piano parts fortissimo here; this is the only time this marking will appear in the entire sonata. The eruptive rhetoric is only briefly interrupted by lyrical phrases on cello and piano, which however are once more whipped up to impulsive violence by means of sforzati, triplets and semiquavers, and bring the movement to an abrupt conclusion.

The ensuing Adagio initially sets a deeply contemplative mood, but the urgent hemidemisemiquaver passagework soon engenders an inward, tension-filled dialogue featuring menacing sforzati in the cello and piano parts. After eight bars, the tension is resolved in a diminuendo leading to one of the most moving phrases in the whole cycle of sonatas. Here we are offered a melody in G major of the utmost fervour and simplicity, which Beethoven marks teneramente, ‘tenderly’. After the quotation of the sonata’s opening theme mentioned above, a trill shared by cello and piano introduces the finale, Allegro vivace. In his first autograph draft of this movement Beethoven originally intended the main theme as a fugue subject, but subsequently rejected the idea. Only in his final sonata was he to realize this project, weaving a dense contrapuntal texture in its last movement. In his finished version of the Allegro vivace, hopeful, questioning motifs develop into a theme of boisterous, rustic strength, as if firmly rooted in the soil. All that remains of Beethoven’s idea of a fugal texture is a brief episode midway through the movement, after the first ghostly point of repose, which nonetheless offers a foretaste of the path he was to follow in the finale of his great D major sonata. The last movement of the present sonata is dominated by bold alternation between the rustic dance rhythms and eerie moments of repose. The coda features a brilliant stream of rising triplets in C major in which the cello is required to play in its highest register. Here once more the composer combines the full force of the two instruments. After a last lyrical phrase recalling the start of the movement, a rapid semiquaver passage and two chords bring the sonata to an unexpected close with almost coarse humour.

The Sonata in D major Op 102 No 2 was written in the summer of 1815. Like the C major sonata, it was first published by Simrock in 1817; Artaria issued a second edition just two years later. The remark of one of the most famous Beethoven pianists, Hans von Bülow (1830– 1894), that he was not able to play the sonatas frequently, because they required not only a good cellist but above all ‘a highly cultured human being’, shows the high esteem in which these pieces were already held and the high standards required for their interpretation. It undoubtedly applies most especially to the infinitely complex D major Sonata. Already the introductory Allegro con brio presents itself on a proudly orchestral scale. The start of the movement recalls Beethoven’s introduction to the ‘Ghost’ Trio Op 70 No 1 (also dedicated to Countess Erdödy); there too an impetuous opening is followed by a slower cantabile theme. In his last cello sonata this strategy is heard with even more elemental strength. The phrase of four semiquavers and a minim is subjected to every conceivable form of sequence and variation; once one has heard it, it is difficult to get it out of one’s head. In the development, the composer creates a dark, sinister atmosphere by changing the four semiquavers into four thrusting quavers in the piano. By way of excursions through A minor and G major we find our way back to the emphatic D major of the opening. The movement closes with a culminating passage in semiquavers followed by three mighty chords.

What comes next is unique in many respects. The second movement, Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto, is the only independent slow movement in the whole cycle of sonatas. In the years around 1800 it was widely thought that it was difficult for the cello to hold its own against the fortepiano in cantilena, and that it was preferable to write short rhythmic phrases for the instrument in the interests of better balance. This prejudice was still discernible in the time of Mendelssohn, and was frequently taken into account in contemporary compositions. Beethoven, by contrast, was the first to attempt the creation of a new kind of slow movement, freed from any instrumental limitations. The dematerialization of musical language ascribed to Beethoven’s late works achieves its consummation in this movement; here is music of incomparably sad beauty. The opening bars, which move between a rising third and falling seconds in D minor, immediately convey an impression of mysterious, contemplative peace. For me, the instrumental effect of this quaver movement in the cello can only be compared with the Sarabande from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No 5, which in its simplicity generates similar universal, visionary strength. By contrast, the espressivo theme stated by the piano and subsequently taken over by the cello, with its hemidemisemiquavers and demisemiquavers, conjures up a sombre, threatening side to the movement. Only in the middle section in the major does the mood brighten as the two instruments find unaccustomed harmony with one another. This is a passage of particular purity, which almost seems to anticipate the Romantic impetus of such composers as Schubert.

At the end of the movement the two instruments pause intently: a passage of quasi-numbness slows down the pulse, and two rising scales tentatively prepare the start of the finale, Allegro fugato. In this movement too we encounter something entirely new and unprecedented in the history of the sonata—after the short introduction, the quaver figures we have just heard, extremely terse in both melody and rhythm, form the nucleus of the fugue subject. These polyphonic tags are presented by both instruments, varied in sequence, and intensified in dynamics until they reach positively orchestral heights. One is reminded of the massive architecture of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, completed three years later. Only in the middle of the movement does Beethoven allow the listener a brief moment of tranquillity through the introduction of a new theme before the sharply profiled quaver runs of the fugue subject recommence their powerful evolution. Here the music reaches its final climax, marked fortissimo and sempre fortissimo. Massive hemiolic phrases round off the movement, and Beethoven’s entire output of cello sonatas, with inexorable rustic strength. The new-found significance of polyphony for the composer was seldom more perceptible than here. However, it is hardly surprising that the forward-looking and introverted rhetoric of Beethoven’s final cello sonatas was understood and appreciated only years later.

The variations on themes by Handel and Mozart date from the years between 1796 and 1802. It was in 1796 that Beethoven wrote his early cello sonatas, Op 5, and undertook his only extended concert tour, to Prague, Dresden, and Leipzig. Beethoven was the first composer to rise to the challenge of achieving a balance between the bright sound of the piano and the deep, warm sound of the cello. Some years previously, Frederick the Great had brought one of the finest cellists of the time, Jean-Pierre Duport, from Paris to be his Konzertmeister. After the outbreak of the French Revolution, his younger brother Jean-Louis, also a gifted performer on the instrument, moved to Berlin and further strengthened the court orchestra. Beethoven came across this pair of cello virtuosi on his Berlin visit of 1796, and they inspired his first works for the instrument. It is fascinating to follow the twenty-six-year-old composer’s experiments with the potential of the cello-piano combination in his variations. Even though he did not go as far in giving the instruments parity of treatment as he did in his sonatas, it is clear that, for all his compositional mastery, he used the variations as an initial ‘laboratory’ to formulate his ideas.

The variations on a theme from Judas Maccabaeus were very likely written after Beethoven had attended rehearsals of Handel’s oratorio in Berlin. Although their chief priority is to show off the pianist’s dexterity, they are quite capable of throwing up examples of Beethoven’s dramatic style, notably in the minor-key Variation VIII and the virtuoso gestures of Variations VII and XII. The variations on Mozart’s theme ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’, probably composed in 1798, reflect Beethoven’s great admiration for that composer and his opera Die Zauberflöte. The splendid theme is varied here with sovereign skill and constantly shown from new angles. The buoyant mood of Papageno’s well-known aria is on occasion transformed by bold modulations which give it an introverted twist in the two variations in the minor. Despite the jovial virtuosity of the concluding variation, Beethoven brings the work to a cheerful but at the same time thoughtful conclusion. The last set of variations, on the duet ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from Die Zauberflöte, dates from 1801. Here the music is already laid out in such a way that the two instruments are in essence equal partners. It is especially delightful to follow the dialogue of the duet, with the piano in the role of Pamina and the cello answering it as Papageno. In the ensuing variations Beethoven once more demonstrates his gift for structural clarity, producing extremely attractive exchanges which combine the instruments in both light-hearted play and dramatic rivalry. A strong contrast is provided by the mysterious minor-key variation, which presents the cello in its low register but conserves transparency of texture thanks to the sensitive piano-writing. In the coda to the final variation Beethoven springs the surprise of letting the opening theme blossom anew before the brilliant conclusion on two imperious chords. Here is yet more evidence of the mastery Beethoven deployed in his outstanding contribution to the cello repertoire.

Daniel Müller-Schott © 2010
English: Charles Johnston


Other albums in this series
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67518)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67633)
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67605)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
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'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3' (CDA67797)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3
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'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4' (CDA67974)
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