Beethoven Cello Sonatas

A Chinese cellist and his Filipino pianist in Beethoven’s sonatas

Author: 
Harriet Smith

Beethoven Cello Sonatas

  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 5

Cellist Li-Wei Qin, born in Shanghai and educated in Australia and the UK, offers a highly accomplished Beethoven sonata cycle with pianist Albert Tiu. A consistent and particular pleasure is Qin’s tone, from the warmth of the lower register to the sweet-toned upper reaches, soaring into the stratosphere apparently without effort.

These are readings that are largely content to let the music speak for itself – which can be a good thing. The opening of Op 69, for instance, is less interventionist than Müller-Schott’s, who has, in Angela Hewitt, a pianist who tends to play up the brilliance of the piano-writing to a greater extent than Tiu. Where the Qin/Tiu duo are perhaps less convincing is in movements such as the same sonata’s driven Scherzo, which demands the most instinctive interplay, with Tiu a touch reticent here, though Müller-Schott and Hewitt are arguably too rushed; both partnerships misjudge the brief Adagio cantabile that follows: extreme slowness does not equate to profundity. Far more convincing in the overall pacing and impact of this sonata is the 1947‑48 Fournier/Schnabel reading, and I’d urge you to seek out this classic cycle: Fournier’s warmth and unobtrusive virtuosity, plus the odd portamento, are a profound pleasure, while no pianist understands the music better.

In the late sonatas, too, Qin and Tiu don’t always reveal the centre of the music as some do, notably the linked slow movement and finale of Op 102 No 2, with gravity leading to a playfulness that is undermined by more cataclysmic moments. Here the emphasis tends to be on the music’s lighter elements.

So, intensely likeable performances without perhaps making you feel that they’re shedding new light on these eternally engaging masterpieces.

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018