Beethoven (The) Complete Cello Sonatas

The Brendel family values: eloquence, energy and sheer joy in music-making

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Beethoven (The) Complete Cello Sonatas

  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3
  • (12) Variations on Mozart's 'Ein Mädchen oder We
  • Variations on 'See the conqu'ring hero comes' from
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 5
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1
  • (7) Variations on Mozart's 'Bei Männern, welche

The Brendels, father and son, give us Beethoven’s complete works for piano and cello, and you will have to search long and hard – and possibly in vain – to hear performances of a comparable warmth and humanity or joy in music-making. Sumptuously recorded and lavishly presented (including engaging family photographs), the sonatas are offered in a sequence that gives the listener an increased sense of Beethoven’s awe-inspiring scope and range.

CD 1 juxtaposes early, middle and late sonatas with a joyous encore in the Variations on Mozart’s ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’. CD 2 gives us the Variations on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, continues with the remaining two sonatas and ends with the other Magic Flute Variations, on ‘Bei Männern’.

Pianist and cellist are united by a rare unity of purpose and stylistic consistency, whether in strength and exuberance, an enriching sense of complexity or in other-worldly calm (often abruptly terminated). What eloquence they achieve in the opening Adagio of the Second Sonata, what musical energy in the following Allegro molto tanto presto, instances where Beethoven’s volatility is always tempered by the Brendels’ seasoned musicianship.

In Op 102 No 2, Beethoven’s far-reaching and still bewildering utterance, there is a quiet strength and lucidity; time and again a direction such as Allegro vivace is exactly that and not stretched, as in more urgently, even neurotically, propelled performances. Their glowing expressiveness at 10’57” in Sonata No 3 is ‘interior’ yet never at the expense of impetus, and Adrian Brendel’s ad libitum lead into the concluding Allegro is memorable – improvisatory and relaxed. Both players display rhythmic resilience in the final Rondo from Sonata No 1, and what open-hearted delight and joie de vivre there is in the sets of variations.

Not all family relationships work so harmoniously and these deeply rewarding, often autumnal, readings will never stray far from my CD player. While it may be too much to hope for recordings of the Debussy and Fauré sonatas from this partnership, we can hopefully look forward to the Brahms sonatas.

The Brendels follow hard on Miklós Perényi and András Schiff’s highly praised set on ECM New Series. This is indeed distinguished; a marvel of musical energy and finesse. Yet for all their expertise, this team presents a less unified and warmly human front than the Brendels. At the same time both sets are invaluable additions to the recordings of these masterpieces (and ECM includes the Op 17 Sonata for Horn and Piano in Beethoven’s cello arrangement).

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