Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Sonata No. 2 in F.
Cello Sonata No. 2 in e?.
Cello Sonata in a
Johannes Moser (vc); Paul Rivinius (pn)
HÄNSSLER 93.206 (74:22)
At least twice upon a time, I’ve lamented the seemingly never ending parade of new recordings of Brahms’s two cello sonatas, when the cello sonatas of so many near Brahms contemporaries and other Romantic composers have gone
begging. Bravo to Johannes Moser and Paul Rivinius for giving us two of them; one—the Zemlinsky—in fact, claiming to be its recording debut (more on this below). The title of the disc, “Brahms and his Contemporaries, Volume 1,” promises future rewards from this rich treasure trove.
For one so unjustly maligned for regressive tendencies, it’s ironic that no composer inspired more imitators than Brahms, and Robert Fuchs (1847–1927) was one of the better known and widely admired among them. His catalog—which includes three symphonies, a piano concerto, two operas, choral works, and a large volume of chamber music—is quite respectable; but it was for his orchestral serenades that he was most celebrated in his lifetime, so much so that he came to be affectionately known as Serenaden Fuchs (Serenading Fox), a play on his name. Though his works were championed by notables, such as Arthur Nikisch, Hans Richter, and Felix Weingartner, Fuchs himself shied away from the politics and self-promotion of public life, preferring his teaching activities at the Vienna Conservatory to the spotlight of opera house and concert hall. His pupils included Mahler, Franz Schmidt, Franz Schreker, Sibelius, Wolf, and Zemlinsky.
It’s hard to fathom why a composer would choose the key of E? Minor (six flats!) for a cello sonata—indeed for any string instrument—which renders all open strings, save for the C, unusable. That aside, Fuch’s 1908 E?-Minor Sonata, op. 83, is one of two he wrote for the instrument. The First, in D Minor, op. 29, is a much earlier work dating from 1881. Both sonatas may be heard on a Marco Polo CD with Mark Drobinsky and Daniel Blumenthal. Long out of print, it has been revived by ArkivMusic.com’s reissue program. In the 27 years that separate the two works, Fuchs’s love affair with Brahms shows no evidence of having abated. More superficially tuneful perhaps than Brahms, and not as harmonically or rhythmically complex, the style still remains clearly in thrall to the elder composer.
Moser and Rivinius dote more tenderly on the Adagio con sentimento—7:02 to Drobinsky and Blumenthal’s 5:50. Other than that, the two performances are pretty much comparable. The choice, if there must be one, becomes a tough call because it is between two other drop-dead gorgeous works—Fuchs’s First Sonata with D&B vs. Zemlinsky’s Sonata with M&R. Don’t you hate choices like that?
When it comes to the Zemlinsky, I’m afraid we have a bit of a “situation” here, as in “Will the real world premiere recording please stand up?” Raphael Wallfisch and John York recorded the piece for Nimbus May 30–31, 2006, and the CD, released in April of 2007, proclaims it the world premiere. The current performance under review was recorded on December 18, 2006; so sorry, Hänssler, but Nimbus beat you to it by seven months.
I haven’t heard the Wallfisch/York, so I can’t speak to the relative merits of the two performances; but having settled the matter of who jumped on the bandwagon first, I am able to report that Zemlinsky’s A-Minor Sonata, an early work written around 1891, when the composer had just turned 20, is another romantically sumptuous and achingly beautiful work that is even more Brahmsian in its harmonic textures and melodic gestures than the Fuchs.
Moser and Rivinius’s playing of it—and indeed of the Fuchs and Brahms Second Sonata—leaves nothing to be desired. This is chamber music-making of the highest order, and it becomes a wonderful, unexpected potential entry on my 2007 Want List. This one earns my top five-star recommendation.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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