Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Sonatas: No. 1 in F,
No. 2 in g,
Variations: on “See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes,”
on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen,”
Wen-Sinn Yang (vc); Werner Bärtschi (pn)
PROFIL 10004 (73: 08) Live: Zurich 5/1/2004
And still they come! The deluge of
recordings of these pieces continues unabated; who could keep up with them? This is presumably disc 1 of what will surely be yet another complete set, from a Swiss-based duo that is new to me. Although I didn’t relish the prospect of sitting down for another go-through, I changed my mind in short order.
The performances were recorded live, which really pays off in their sense of spontaneity and some edge-of-seat risk-taking. Wen-Sinn Yang’s cello sings plangently, mixing dark brown and purple hues with a hint of aristocratic reserve that reminded me of Fournier. But his playing also has a keen rhythmic impulse, at times pushing ahead excitingly. Werner Bärtschi is an exceptional partner: supple, probing, richly intelligent, with phrasing that really lives and breathes. He is apparently also a composer, and plays with a composer’s insight into Beethoven’s melodic and harmonic craftsmanship.
Their playing of the slow introduction to the F Major immediately announces something special, in its long lines and coloristic subtlety. The ensuing Allegro is possessed of a rare
and devil-may-care brio; the huge second group is paced with great flexibility, full of mercurial characterization of detail. In the development, their response to the harmonic drama is unusually subtle and imaginative, with masterly control of long-range tension. The interpolated duo-cadenza towards the end of the movement has a scintillating sense of improvisatory interplay. Their approach to the rondo finale is no less exceptional in its “speaking” flexibility, the expressive contrasts trenchantly characterized (hear, for example, how they sway into those rustic drones!).
In the G Minor, the first-movement Allegro is full of finely drawn details—listen to the almost operatic richness of their sinuous, vocal back-and-forth in the main theme. Like most duos, they omit the long second-half repeat. The rondo finale combines dash and excitement with great precision and refinement.
The variations are characterized with uncommon subtlety and imaginative attention to detail (including a few idiomatic improvised flourishes).
The live recording is outstanding in its presence and atmosphere (applause is included). All in all, this is easily the finest of the modern-instrument versions I have reviewed lately (Cho/Koehlen on Telos—compellingly individual cello playing; neat, efficient pianism; Singer/Pantillon on Claves—urbane but rather low-key). I also prefer them to Wispelwey/Lazic (Channel Classics)—provocatively individual, but too much straining after effect (and surprisingly stingy with repeats, by today’s standards). I have not yet heard Bailey/Dinnerstein (Telarc) or Müller-Schott/Hewitt (Hyperion), both recently highly praised by Jerry Dubins. But for superior artistry, searching musicality, and sheer élan, the Swiss duo now goes straight to the top of my modern-instrument recommendations from the digital era, alongside classics Maisky/Argerich (DG) and Perenyi/Schiff (ECM). Roll on disc 2!
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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