BEETHOVEN Complete Cello Sonatas and Variations
Cellist Matt Haimovitz prefaces his period-instrument Beethoven cycle with an absorbing essay, writing that ‘the consideration is no longer the modern-day “how can the cello cut through the multi-voiced powerhouse of a concert grand piano”, but “how can it make room for the nuances of the 19th-century fortepiano?”’ Good engineering also helps, and Pentatone’s vividly resonant production captures the music’s wide dynamic range with comparable clarity and heft to the two Bylsma editions, and surpasses the slightly dry and close-up Isserlis/Levin cycle.
More significantly, Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley play the living daylights out of these works. They lap up Beethoven’s combative style like hungry lions anticipating raw steak, relishing the composer’s frequent subito dynamics, unpredictable placement of accents and over-the-bar-line phrase groupings. Rarely has Op 5 No 1’s first-movement introduction come alive with such rhythmic character, while the rollicking yet relaxed repartee of Op 5 No 2’s Rondo underlines the music’s kinship to the Fourth Piano Concerto’s finale. Similar attention to detail adds intensity and colour to the off-beat accents in Op 69’s Scherzo, and the Allegro vivace’s playful demeanor (complete with scrupulously observed staccatos) makes for a brash contrast to the eloquence and nobility one normally encounters. If the duo pile into Op 102 No 1’s Allegro vivace too aggressively for certain pitches to register, the joyous, uplifting mood conveyed by their briskly paced Op 102 No 2 final fugue’s transparency and sophisticated phraseology is worth this release’s total price.
Terrific performances of the variation sets prove more than merely filler. If you want a HIP counterpart to the Maisky/Argerich cycle, look no further.