Beethoven Complete Works for Cello & Piano
Maria Kliegel and Nina Tichman conclude their three-volume Beethoven exploration with fine-toned, vigorous performances of the last two sonatas. Most sets of the cello- and-piano music fit on to two CDs; Naxos’s more liberal allowance permits the inclusion of extra items, in this case the Duo, with ‘Two Obbligato Eyeglasses’, for viola and cello; not, perhaps, one of the young Beethoven’s finest achievements, but most imaginatively written for the two instruments. Tabea Zimmermann’s spirited playing prompts regret that Beethoven never wrote a concertante work for viola.
In the sonatas and variations Tichman and Kliegel make a well-matched pair. They favour firm, rounded tone and strong, expressive projection, and are equally convincing in the passionate A minor Allegro that forms the second part of the Fourth Sonata’s first movement, and in the preceding Andante, where warm sound and soaring lines perfectly express the music’s romantic spirit. What’s missing, perhaps, is a range of tone colour that can suggest mystery or solemnity. And in the variations, Kliegel is inclined to phrase in a smooth, somewhat bland way, where a more articulated, 18th-century style would be more in order. The passages in dialogue between the instruments, however, are most beautifully realised.
Turning to András Schiff and Miklós Perényi, the first impression is of a much lighter sound. The piano, indeed, might seem quite brittle, were it not for Schiff’s beautiful cantabile touch and his exceptional ability to balance chords – Beethoven’s gruffest harmonies form part of a texture that’s richly coloured and always clear. It’s the kind of thing we normally only experience with the best period-instrument players.
In contrast to the finely matched pairing of Tichman and Kliegel, Perényi and Schiff appear as distinct, contrasting characters – Perényi suave and elegant, and though demonstrating a wide expressive range, always staying within the boundaries of what is polished and unexaggerated, Schiff much more volatile and extreme. In the high-spirited finales of the first two sonatas I could easily imagine the tempestuous young composer performing before the King of Prussia.
But this contrast of styles doesn’t result in unbalanced performances. There are, maybe, one or two places (in the Third Sonata’s first movement, for example) where I would have welcomed more intensity from Perényi, but overall his playing has all the vigour and commitment one could wish for. And where it’s necessary to achieve perfect unity, the two come together in the most inspiring way. The most remarkable instance of this is Op 102’s fugal finale, a movement that’s often been perceived as impressive rather than attractive, but these two artists match articulation, note-lengths, volume and tone colour in such a way as to make the music seem beautiful as well as uplifting.An outstanding set, indeed!