This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
The instruments blend so well that at Bilson's first entry in the C major Sonata it sounds for all the world as if Bylsma is triple-stopping. Their music-making is creative, spontaneous and uninhibited.
Anthony Pleeth and Melvyn Tan recorded all five cello sonatas and three sets of variations on early instruments, on a two-disc Hyperion set which drew warm appreciation from JAS. But this new recording surpasses their achievement in almost every respect. Anner Bylsma's cello is right to the fore—so much so that there is a fair amount of 'guitarist's squeak' associated with left-hand position-changes. But the resulting balance is excellent (though I would like to hear the players in concert before vouching for its
realism), and the resonant acoustic of the Old Catholic Church in Utrecht helps the sound to live and breathe. The instruments blend so well that at Malcolm Bilson's first entry in the C major Sonata it sounds for all the world as if his partner is triple-stopping. Never is there a sense of either player jostling for the limelight; their music-making sounds creative, spontaneous and uninhibited.
Bylsma's sparing vibrato on his 1690s Goifriller cello is as crucial to the tonal blend as the cimbalom-like treble of Bilson's 1825 Alois Graff fortepiano (restored in 1989). And if the initial impression is of a cellist from Bach's years in Cöthen time-warped a century forward to Vienna, that is soon dispelled by the passion of the playing. This is no poker-faced run-through; neither is it a laboratory experiment. As one instance among many of true Beethovenian drama try the development section of the A major Sonata, where Bilson's visionary delivery of the F sharp minor theme (from 6'45") is answered with furious broken chords from Bylsma—like an elephant energetically brushing its teeth.
A curiosity in the scherzo of this sonata is that Bilson articulates the slurred notes of the main theme, whereas Bylsma does not. Whether or not there should be an articulation at all is a matter for debate, but I cannot see that it makes sense for the two instruments to disagree like this. The finale is a joy from first note to last, however, and as a whole the interpretation can stand beside the finest on modern instruments. Similarly, the first movement of the C major Sonata is finely poised between urgent passion and exploratory inwardness (the elusive second movement I have heard more tellingly paced). In the opening motif of the D major Sonata there is another curious discrepancy over articulation—Bilson separates the notes in the octave leap, Bylsma does not. Thereafter it feels as natural and inevitable as the other two sonatas, with acute sensitivity to ebb and flow in the slow movement, a hushed, mysterious close, and a breathtaking ushering in of the finale.
The fresh definition of texture that early instruments can bring to such repertoire is surely of value only insofar as it enables fresh flights of interpretative fancy to take place. So it is on this disc, which incidentally reinforces my growing suspicion that chamber music, rather than solo or concerto works, is where the fortepiano really comes into its own.
-- Gramophone [4/1992]
Works on This Recording
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