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Bion Tsang And Anton Nel Live In Concert

Brahms / Tsang / Nel
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Artek   Catalog #: 51   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Bion TsangAnton Nel
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BRAHMS Cello Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2. 4 Hungarian Dances. Violin Sonata No. 3: Adagio Bion Tsang (vc); Anton Nel (pn) ARTEK 0051 (76:02) Live: Boston 4/5/2008


It’s been a while since I’ve kvetched about having to review too many new releases of Brahms’s cello sonatas. I love them dearly, but enough was enough. Now, after a welcome respite, here comes Michigan-born cellist Bion Tsang to “make the pie higher,” to borrow a Read more phrase from an ex-POTUS’s primer of quotable quotes.


Tsang debuted at the age of 11 with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, went on to take his B.A. degree from Harvard and his master’s of musical arts from Yale, picked up a number of coveted prizes along the way, and has since gone on to distinguish himself as a top cellist on the American concert stage. According to the cellist’s Web site and the current album’s booklet note, Tsang’s discography—which is said to include Bach’s solo cello suites among some 15 other recordings he’s made—is more extensive than the one listing I found at ArkivMusic, or the three listings I found at Amazon. So where these other elusive discs might be hiding out I don’t know. I do know that I had kind words for Tsang’s Beethoven sonatas in Fanfare 30:1, commenting on his solid technique, full-throated vibrant tone, and poised performances that spoke to long, careful, and loving preparation. But nothing in his Beethoven could have prepared me for his Brahms.


My all-around favorite recording of the Brahms sonatas, and the one by which I’ve measured all comers, has been the one with Nancy Green and Frederick Moyer on the JRI label. That must now change thanks to Tsang, darn him anyway. His opening of the E-Minor Sonata took my breath away. It’s a bit on the slow side, even for the non troppo qualification Brahms tacked on to his Allegro marking, but the expressiveness of Tsang’s phrasing caresses the ears with such tenderness that at first it made me cry, and then it made me laugh. “Why laugh?” you wonder. Well, if you’re a Star Trek: TNG fan, you know about the highly sensitive Ferengi earlobes, which, when stroked with a technique called oo-mox , produces feelings of pleasure and contentment. I don’t mean to overlace this review with levity, but let’s just say that Tsang’s Brahms was oo-mox to my ears.


To his readings of the sonatas, Tsang brings a hyper-romantic sensibility. Some may find his not infrequent portamentos uncalled for, though personally, I find them well timed and appropriate, especially in the earlier E-Minor Sonata, the opening bars of which speak of such inconsolable sadness. But by the time Tsang reaches the sonata’s fiery finale, it’s clear that the slower tempo he adopted at the outset was a matter of choice, not necessity dictated by any technical inadequacy, for he presses forward to the finish line as fast as anyone else I’ve heard, and without a hint of strain.


In Tsang’s hands, the F-Major Sonata bursts forth with a lambency of startling radiance and passion. But I shouldn’t have come this far without mentioning Tsang’s partner, Anton Nel. Rarely have I heard the piano parts to these sonatas played so revealingly. Nel lays bare for the listener the interlocking plates, which, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle when joined together, disclose an extraordinarily detailed picture only hinted at by the individual tiles. Together Tsang and Nel present Brahms’s cello sonatas in readings that are not only gorgeously played, dramatic, urgent, and filled with thrilling romantic ardor, but that also expose with an almost clinical clarity Brahms’s profoundly classical compositional techniques. If those ends sound contradictory, I can only say that Tsang and Nel manage to find the common denominator in the seeming conflict that resolves it and renders it moot. For those who must know, first movement exposition repeats are taken in both sonatas.


There are two more contributors to the glory of these performances that must be acknowledged, and they are the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall and the uncredited recording team. I don’t think I’ve ever heard—no, I know I haven’t—a cello and piano duo sound this way on record. Both instruments soared from my speakers with such headroom and bloom that I could literally feel the ambient acoustic of the hall surrounding me, and this is not even a multichannel surround-sound CD. Truly amazing.


The two sonatas would have been gift enough, but in their largesse Tsang and Nel offer as an added bonus four of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances —Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5—and top that with an encore in the form of a transcription for cello of the Adagio from Brahms’s D-Minor Violin Sonata, op. 108.


Much as it grieves me to say it, Nancy and Frederick, move over; Bion and Anton are now my top recommendation for the Brahms cello sonatas.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 1 in E minor, Op. 38 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Bion Tsang (Cello), Anton Nel (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862-1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 26 Minutes 28 Secs. 
2.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 2 in F major, Op. 99 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Anton Nel (Piano), Bion Tsang (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 28 Minutes 24 Secs. 
3.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 1 in G minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Anton Nel (Piano), Bion Tsang (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 3 Minutes 44 Secs. 
4.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 2 in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Bion Tsang (Cello), Anton Nel (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 3 Minutes 22 Secs. 
5.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 4 in F minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Anton Nel (Piano), Bion Tsang (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 4 Minutes 17 Secs. 
6.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 5 in F sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Anton Nel (Piano), Bion Tsang (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 3 Minutes 33 Secs. 
7.
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 108: 2nd movement, Adagio by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Anton Nel (Piano), Bion Tsang (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886-1888; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/2008 
Venue:  New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, 
Length: 5 Minutes 28 Secs. 

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