Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Sonata in d.
Cello Sonata in C.
for Cello and Piano
Johannes Moser (vc); Paul Rivinius (pn)
HÄNSSLER 93257 (66:44)
I’ve had occasion to praise cellist Johannes Moser in these pages before. The three of his albums I’ve reviewed so far have all received strong recommendations. In fact, I would place Moser
alongside Daniel Müller-Schott, Jamie Walton, and Jean-Guihen Queyras as one of the four top young cellists on today’s scene.
Neither Benjamin Britten’s C-Major Cello Sonata nor Frank Bridge’s D-Minor Cello Sonata comes up short on recordings, and their pairing on disc is not an uncommon one. In fact, I reviewed and enthusiastically recommended one of those Bridge-Britten couplings by Paul and Huw Watkins on a Nimbus CD in
, however, is a rarity, its only other current listing being a historical mono Lyrita CD with Florence Hooten and Wilfrid Parry.
Britten’s 1961 Cello Sonata was written for Mstislav Rostropovich, as were the composer’s Cello Symphony and suites for solo cello. Thus, as some might see it, Britten and Rostropovich teaming up to record the sonata for Decca in 1961 could be a hard act to follow. But others—Ma and Ax, Gutman and Richter, du Pré and Kovacevich, and Wispelwey and Lazic—have not been daunted. If anyone is cowed, it’s me; for as I said in a review of Britten’s Cello Symphony elsewhere in these pages, Britten is not a composer I’ve found easy to like. But just as I was bowled over by Wispelwey’s performance of the Cello Symphony, I find myself equally impressed here by Moser’s and Rivinius’s fantastical performance of Britten’s sonata. I use the word “fantastical” as opposed to fantastic, to describe not the level of technical virtuosity the players achieve, which is indeed fantastic, but the phantasmagoric and spectral qualities they bring out in the music.
There is indeed an eerie, grotesque, almost unhinged character to the score: Glassy harmonics,
, and glissandos are heard from the cello; a splenetic Scherzo spits spiteful pizzicatos; a baleful Elegia bestirs the spirits of the dead; a bitonal Marcia mocks the marauders; and a Moto Perpetuo, like Gandalf in Tolkien’s
Lord of the Rings
, gallops back to Middle Earth whence he came. The imagery Moser and Rivinius draw from Britten’s sonata is graphic, and their performance is a
tour de force
on every level.
For an entirely different bath, take a dip in the balmy waters of Bridge’s more-than-a bit Brahmsian D-Minor Cello Sonata. Written between 1913 and 1917, it’s a work stalked by the composer’s despair over the Great War. The inexpressible sadness the score exudes has about it some of the feeling of Elgar’s cello concerto, but the thematic material and harmonic language are different, in some ways a throwback to Brahms’s cello sonatas, and in other ways a glance not quite so far back at Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata. Whatever its influences, Bridge’s sonata is a beautifully crafted work in late-Romantic style, and it is magnificently played by Moser and Rivinius.
also impresses as being in a very late or post-Romantic style almost as rich and luxuriant as the Bridge sonata, which is all the more surprising given that it was written a quarter century later, in 1943. But as others have observed, this late work from Bax’s pen is a nostalgic looking back to one of the composer’s early First World War orchestral works,
The Garden of Fand
. As noted above, the
has not received much attention on record, though it’s a mystery as to why, for it contains much that is memorable and moving.
Anyone with the slightest interest in this repertoire owes it to himself to acquire this release. Outstanding and urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
A CD of cello music by the three Bs. And not any old three Bs, but three English Bs. It’s an apt coupling for all three composers were, in some ways, outsiders in their own time.
Sonata was written in the romantic style he employed before the First World War, after which his style radicalised and became more elusive, aphoristic and, some would say, difficult - hence his being an outsider. This latter isn’t true and we can now understand his later music simply because, through recordings, we are able to assess his complete output. In two big movements, the second being both slow movement and finale, Bridge’s
Sonata is brim full of tunes, welded to a glorious singing line for the cello. Moser allows himself time to relish the lyricism of the work, and he muses and sings to perfection. He obviously has a deep understanding of the work and it shows, for his command of the piece is second to none.
Bridge’s pupil, Benjamin Britten is credited with being the man who really put England back on the musical map. This isn’t totally true, there was much before him to do that, but perhaps it was Britten who brought English music to the world at large. His
Cello Sonata was the first of five works he wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich. It’s a mysterious piece, starting with a very nervous and seemingly uncertain
Dialogo. But nothing about Britten’s compositions can be said to be uncertain and his grip on the uneasiness of his material is masterly; a satisfying whole being made out of whispered secrets. The pizzicato
Scherzo is jumpy and uncomfortable, with, perhaps, a slight sense of panic behind the seeming playful façade.
Elegia is the heart of the work, with a bold climax and distant musings on the horizon. The final two movements change attitude. The fourth, a
March, is grotesque and angular, whilst the final
Moto perpetuo is a real headlong rush, the like of which is unusual in Britten’s music. As with the Bridge, Moser is very secure here, especially in the slow movement, which has a quiet authority.
It’s hard for any cellist who chooses to play these two works, let alone record them, for they were both recorded by Rostropovich with Britten at the piano. Their performance of the Bridge is available on Decca 4435752 (coupled with Schubert’s
Arpeggione Sonata) and the Britten
Sonata is available on Decca 4218592 (coupled with the first two
Solo Cello Suites). Anyone interested in Britten will already have these, I am sure, and, on no account must they be missed, but Moser’s interpretations come very close to the very high standard set by Rostropovich.
Bax was an outsider because of his being, in his own words, “a brazen romantic”, refusing to go the neo-classical and modernist way of so many of his contemporaries. This
Legend-Sonata is a very late work - written only a few years before his death and at a time when his music had fallen from the full favour of the public and performers. This
Sonata is free in form, displays some of the Celtic Twilight attitude which can be found in many of his works, and is light and delightful; there are no depths to be plumbed here. Moser gives a nicely understated performance, pointing the lyricism, for it is a tuneful piece, and allowing it to please.
This is a real find of an issue of English music. Moser and Rivinius make a fine duo partnership - and it is a partnership not a soloist with accompanist. The recording is very nicely balanced, and the notes are good. It’s reassuring to hear great English music played so well by non-English musicians. Perhaps the word is getting round that English music really can be as good as it sounds! Don’t miss this, it’s a very special issue, and I, for one, welcome it with open ears.
-- Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International
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