Notes and Editorial Reviews
Until now the recording of choice for the Alkan sonata was Bertrand/Amoyel on Harmonia Mundi, with Rostropovich/Argerich on DG for the Chopin. The two sonatas make an inspired coupling, all the more so as this newcomer sweeps the board in both works. There's an odd rule in the classical music world that composer/pianists not known for their work in large, abstract forms do surprisingly well with singleton cello sonatas. Think of Grieg, Poulenc, Debussy, and the two composers under consideration here. Both of these works are masterpieces of this comparatively neglected genre, though the challenges that they offer are somewhat different.
Alkan really was a master of form, a classicist
with the technical equipment of a hell-for-leather virtuoso. There is a real balance issue here, particularly in the finale, with the cello spending a lot of time in its middle or lower register. Thank heaven for Steven Osborne, a pianist who, while never stinting on the music's sheer virtuosity, lets the cello shine as an equal participant through control of articulation and dynamics. Happily he has a partner worthy of the spotlight in Alban Gerhardt. As that insane closing saltarello shows, he can play incisively, at high volume, without letting his tone turn dry and rough. Both players are models of elegance and sensitivity in the gorgeous Adagio third movement. In short, if you don't know this magnificent work, this is the version you'll want as your introduction.
Chopin's lighter, more filigreed piano writing offers fewer balance problems, but his handling of form is less assured than Alkan's, and the very long (half the work) first movement can ramble. It doesn't for Rostropovich/Argerich, and does so even less here, with a slightly brisker tempo and an even stronger feel for the music's long, lyrical lines. This is a magnificent performance: the tiny Largo is a particular gem. Pellucidly clean and clear engineering completes a remarkably fine disc that never once deviates from the highest artistic standards on offer today. You'll love it.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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