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Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello & Piano / Steven Isserlis, Robert Levin

Beethoven / Isserlis / Levin
Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67981  
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven IsserlisRobert Levin
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 39 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



On this recording, Steven Isserlis, together with his regular collaborator, fortepianist Robert Levin, presents a magisterial compendium of Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano, including Beethoven’s arrangement of his Horn Sonata. The use of the fortepiano opens up a wealth of sonic possibilities for these works. The five Cello Sonatas span Beethoven’s compositional epochs and comprise the most important cycle of cello sonatas in the entire repertoire. Isserlis writes that the composer, "transforms himself from confident virtuoso to supreme master of classical form, and then beyond that to a mystic exploring strange new worlds of unearthly beauty – a
Read more wondrous transfiguration."

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This set contains some of the finest Beethoven performances you are likely to hear. Steven Isserlis is on blazing form: every note lives, every movement is characterised with infectious relish; his range is breathtaking. The ensemble with Robert Levin is dynamic, intimate, often electric. There’s a sense of two powerful minds intensely engaged in Beethoven's dialogue, even though Levin is restricted by his replica 1805 Walter & Sohn fortepiano.

At its best, it’s unbeatable: highlights include a crazily impetuous finale to the Sonata Op 5 No. 1; Sonata Op 5 No 2’s limping introduction; a radiant opening to Op 69 which ends in an Allegro vivace of festive fire; the dreamy wildness of Op 102 No. Is ‘improvised’ slow movement and a Op 102 No 2 of tragic violence.

The fortepiano comes into its own in the delightful sets of Magic Flute Variations. And in the Op 69 Scherzo, Levin repeats the cross-bar tied notes as Beethoven indicated, an effect that would be too emphatic on the piano. When the texture is open and linear, the blend of sounds is finely balanced, but when it thickens it’s strained and tinny. In the cello’s volcanic passages in the first Allegro of Op 69 we miss the piano’s underpinning depth. The accompanying figures in the Allegro of Op 5 No 1 chug murkily, in contrast to Isserlis’s elegance. Sometimes Levin doesn’t quite match Isserlis’s vitality, particularly in the finale of the Op 102 No 1.

The slow, descending scales that open the G minor expose the instrument’s tonal rawness; one yearns for the luminous touch of András Schiff (ECM), and he and Miklós Pérenyi’s faster, clearer fugue in Op 102 No 2—here it’s rhythmically elastic but very noisy.

There isn’t a better version with fortepiano, but for those who prefer the piano, this will take some getting used to.

-- Helen Wallace, BBC Music Magazine [2/2014]

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With numerous available recordings of Beethoven's music for cello and piano available, one might wonder what British cellist Steven Isserlis has to add on this Hyperion release, which includes not only the five Beethoven cello sonatas but three entertaining early sets of variations and a transcription, by Beethoven himself, of the Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17. The answer lies in Isserlis' decision to record the works with a fortepiano, in this case an instrument built by American-Czech maker Paul McNulty and based on a Viennese Walter model of 1805. It's hard to imagine a more appropriate instrument, and the conception by Isserlis and Levin here is of music that pushes the rapidly developing piano to its limit. Sample the Adagio introductions to the early Op. 5 sonatas in F major and G minor, where the fortepiano adds a murky atmosphere of mystery that accords perfectly with the ways in which Beethoven was pushing beyond Classical form. The two late Op. 102 sonatas are truly impressive here, catching the two works' quality of compact abruptness without adding a savagery that for Beethoven was in all likelihood not there. In the middle-period Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69, and in the long central movements of the Op. 5 sonata, traditionalists may miss a broadness in the melodies, but they should spend some time attuning their ears to the instruments here to find an intimacy (not really well-supported by the engineering this time out) that really engages with the muscle and thinking of Beethoven's compositional process. Highly recommended.

-- All Music Guide
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Works on This Recording

1.
Variations (12) for Cello and Piano in G major on a theme by Handel, WoO 45 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Variations (12) for Cello and Piano in F major on "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen", Op. 66 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Sonata for Horn and Piano in F major, Op. 17 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 5 in D major, Op. 102 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1815; Vienna, Austria 
5.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 4 in C major, Op. 102 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1815; Vienna, Austria 
6.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 3 in A major, Op. 69 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
7.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 5 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796; Vienna, Austria 
8.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 1 in F major, Op. 5 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796; Vienna, Austria 
9.
Variations (7) for Cello and Piano on Mozart's "Bei Männern", WoO 46 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello), Robert Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801; Vienna, Austria 

Featured Sound Samples

Cello Sonata No 1: II. Allegro vivace
Cello Sonata No 4: I. Andante

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Wonderful Disc. March 18, 2014 By Anton N. (Brisbane, Qld) See All My Reviews "Marvellous music, played with great gusto by two superb musicians. The sound is exceptional. A special disc for all Beethoven lovers." Report Abuse
 These are the Recordings You Want to Buy! February 26, 2014 By Eric Ramirez (Placerville, CA) See All My Reviews "The current classical music catalog is almost overflowing with wonderful performances of the Sonatas for Cello and Piano by Beethoven, but these recordings issued by the duo of Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin are truly magnificent and I cannot recommend them with more enthusiasm. Robert Levin's work on the fortepiano--his articulation, phrasing, and the innate and natural sense of musical rhetoric with which he plays--is absolutely stellar. And cellist, Steven Isserlis: just how, exactly, is it that he is able to coax everything from the most ravishing sighs and whispers to the most tumultuous thunderclaps and hardy belly laughs from that exquisite, Marquis de Corberon, Stradivarius that he plays (the physical beauty of the instrument's sound is nothing less than mesmerizing!)? The ensemble, throughout, is incredibly compelling and many times will have you on the edge of your seat. The Allegro Vivace from the Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69 is the most fun you can possibly have--legally! Also, be sure to read the accompanying album notes, which were written by Steven Isserlis. He shows us that he is as engaging a writer and he is a cellist of the highest order. Yes, I think that even that old curmudgeon, Ludwig Van Beethoven himself, is toasting the efforts of Messrs. Isserlis and Levin." Report Abuse
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