Natalie Clein - (The) Romantic Cello
Both sonatas can suffer in performance from a sense of imbalance – these great pianist-composers wrote elaborate parts that in places can easily swamp the cello. This doesn’t happen here, however, for several reasons. First, the recording always keeps the cello firmly in focus, yet without sacrificing a natural perspective. Charles Owen has an admirably light touch, playing with great sensitivity whenever there’s a danger of piano domination, but is able to adopt a formidable presence in virtuoso passages like the wonderfully stormy transition in the Rachmaninov second movement, leading back to the Scherzo’s repeat. Second, Natalie Clein is such a communicative player that we feel compelled to follow her line. Her tone is generally warm and expressive, but capable of receding to a chilly senza vibrato – as for the second subject of the Chopin finale – or rising to considerable intensity. She has, moreover, a splendid knack of achieving expressive emphasis for one or two notes in a phrase, by using subtle variations of vibrato or bow pressure to change the tone-colour. Maybe, in the Chopin Largo, she overdoes some of the dynamic contrasts; our attention is drawn rather too strongly to her at several moments where it’s the piano that has the principal voice. But whenever the cello is given long, sustained melodies – as in the trios of both Scherzos, and the second theme of the Rachmaninov finale – the effect is quite glorious. It’s a well planned programme, too; the Polonaise providing a sparkling interlude between the two intense, romantic G minor sonatas, and the Vocalise making a haunting encore.