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.
from notes by Angela Hewitt & Daniel Müller-Schott © 2008