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Beethoven: Complete Works For Cello & Piano / Florestan Duo

Release Date: 07/03/2012 
Label:  Annsam Recordings   Catalog #: 5637967873  
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 21 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Cello Sonatas 1–5. Variations on “See the conqu’ring hero comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. Variations on “Ein Mädchen oder ein Weibchen” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute Florestan Duo STEFAN KARTMAN (2 CDs: 141:04)

Counting only the nine sets Read more of Beethoven’s cello works that I’ve reviewed positively and recommended, going back to 2005—Perényi/András Schiff (28:3), Tsang/Nel (30:1), Gruber/Erez (30:5), Meneses/Pressler (32:3), Bagratuni/Votapek (32:4), Bailey/Dinnerstein (33:2), Heinrich Schiff/Fellner (33:4), Schiefen/Perl (33:4), Müller-Schott/Hewitt (32:4;33:6)—it would be disingenuous, if not foolhardy, for me to claim that this latest survey by the Florestan Duo (Stefan Kartman and Jeannie Yu) supersedes all previous comers.

Beethoven left a legacy of five cello sonatas, three works in variations form, and actually a Sixth Sonata which he transcribed for cello himself from his Horn Sonata, op. 17. Almost no one includes the latter in their recorded sets. Of those listed above, only Miklós Perényi and András Schiff manage to fit all nine works onto their two-disc set. Guido Schiefen and Alfredo Perl include the horn sonata but not the three variations. Most performers, Kartman and Yu among them, give us the five numbered sonatas plus the three variations, but not the horn transcription.

The intimacy shared by husband and wife pays off handsomely for Kartman and Yu in these performances. There’s a sense of freedom that comes from the ability to intuit and anticipate each other’s instinctive responses to the music, something one hears throughout in the reflexive mirroring of phrasing and articulation. Kartman’s Guadagnini cello sings with a refined tone that is dynamically balanced across all four strings, but which has an especially sweet spot in the tenor clef up on the A string around an octave above middle C, where some instruments begin to sound a bit pinched and nasal. The sound Kartman produces is very pleasing to listen to. And of course, Yu partners him beautifully.

Unfortunately, I’d be remiss in my critical duties if I didn’t report that the players do not observe first movement exposition repeats in the two op. 5 sonatas. They do, however, observe them in op. 69 and the two op. 102 sonatas.

Kartman and Yu’s readings of Beethoven’s works for cello and piano may not be definitive, but these players have much to offer, and not just performances that are technically accomplished, which we have a right to expect in all cases. They are also interpretively insightful, musically thoughtful, and they perform with admirable attention to the scores (skipped op. 5 repeats notwithstanding). Very enjoyable too are Kartman and Yu’s readings of the three sets of variations, which they imbue with a sense of occasion that elevates them to the same level of “serious” music as the sonatas.

No recording date or venue is given for these self-produced CDs, but the sound is excellent—a bit bright and slightly favoring the cello, perhaps, but with a clear, warm, and open ambiance and no reverb. Well done, all around, and definitely recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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