Notes and Editorial Reviews
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonatas Nos. 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 • Colin Carr (vc); Thomas Sauer (pn) • MSR 1486 (2 CDs: 138:52)
This is the 16th set of
Beethoven’s cello sonatas I’ve received for review over the past eight years. That averages out to two sets per year, and, if I’m not mistaken, makes this the record for the number of times I’ve reviewed different versions of the same thing. Here, in chronological order is the list—I count the two Müller-Schott/ Hewitt entries as one, though they were released individually several issues apart.
28:3 Miklós Perényi/András Schiff
30:1 Bion Tsang/Anton Nel
30:5 Emanuel Gruber/Arnon Erez
32:3 Antonio Meneses/Menahem Pressler
32:4 Suren Bagratuni/Ralph Votapek
32:4 Daniel Müller-Schott/Angela Hewitt (Nos. 1, 2, and 3)
33:2 Zuill Bailey/Simone Dinnerstein
33:3 Friedrich Kleinhapl/Andreas Woyke
33:4 Guido Schiefen/Alfredo Perl
33:4 Heinrich Schiff/Till Fellner
33:6 Daniel Müller-Schott/Angela Hewitt (Nos. 4 and 5; Variations)
35:2 Jan Pálení?ek/Jitka ?echová
35:2 Li-Wei Qin/Albert Tiu
35:3 Yehuda Hanani/Walter Ponce
35:4 Antony Cooke/Armin Watkins
37:1 Florestan Duo
Problem number one is that all of these sets save for two of them offer exactly the same contents. The two exceptions are the Perényi/Schiff, which is the only set I know of that includes the cello version of Beethoven’s F-Major Horn Sonata, composed for Giovanni Punto; and the Qin/Tiu, which is the only set of those listed that includes only the five sonatas. All the others give us the five sonatas and the three sets of variations. Which leads to problem number two: with this kind of recurrent duplication, is there enough of a market to support yet another version of them?
Reviews of the above entries, for the most part, have been positive, though I’ve liked some more than others. Standouts for me are still Daniel Müller-Schott with Angela Hewitt, and Bion Tsang with Anton Nel; however, there are other worthy contenders among the lot.
Colin Carr is a world-renowned cellist who has appeared as soloist with many major orchestras and name conductors, but he may be more familiar as a permanent member of the Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio, which has recorded a good deal of the standard piano trio literature. Much sought-after pianist Thomas Sauer has also distinguished himself as a soloist and chamber musician, and serves on the music faculties of both Vassar and the Mannes Colleges.
Given my above-expressed misgivings about the over-recording of Beethoven’s cello works, any new version would have to be very special to overcome my reservations. I am therefore pleased to report that this new Carr-Sauer set is special indeed, and it goes right to the top of my favorites list next to Müller-Schott/Hewitt and Tsang/Anton Nel. Here are my reasons: Carr’s cello (unidentified) sings with a tone of incomparable sweetness and evenness across its entire range. Not once in any of the rapid passage work, forte attacks, leaning into sforzandos, or reaching for high notes up on the instrument’s A string, is there a hint of stress, forced sound, or the pinched, nasal quality that can turn the cello’s tone unpleasant. Carr’s playing, in a word, is elegant. Yet it lacks nothing in spirited liveliness where Beethoven calls for bounce, or deeply felt emotion where the music calls for heightened drama and passion.
Sauer, who has previously partnered with Carr in Mendelssohn’s complete works for cello and piano, has the touch of a true chamber musician; and that’s another aspect of these performances that makes them special. The two players engage each other in a musical dialogue of perfect reciprocity and balance. Theirs is a conversation between equals, which elucidates the ingenuity of Beethoven’s linkage of the two instruments in ways that no composer before him had attempted for cello and piano. Listen, for example to the way in which the parts play off against each other in the cockeyed Scherzo of the A-Major Sonata, op. 69, and to the way in which Carr and Sauer lean on those offset quarter-notes to give them that extra zing.
MSR’s recording plays no small part in the ideal positioning of Carr and Sauer and in assuring an exemplary aural perspective. I realize it may be a hard sell to convince you to acquire this release if you already have more than one set of Beethoven’s cello works on your shelf, but all I can do is repeat what I said above: this one is special, and I’m confident that it won’t disappoint. Very strongly recommended.
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Works on This Recording
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 3 in A major, Op. 69 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Colin Carr (Cello),
Thomas Sauer (Piano)
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Rolston Recital Hall, Banff Centre, Banf
Length: 25 Minutes 52 Secs.
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