Classical CD Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Colin Carr, c./ Thomas Sauer, p. – MSR Classics

Top notch playing and a fine sense of the stylistic changes needed to cover these works make for a very worthwhile set.

Published on July 27, 2013

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Colin Carr, c./ Thomas Sauer, p. – MSR Classics

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Colin Carr, cello/ Thomas Sauer, piano – MSR Classics MS 1486, 138:52 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Cellist Colin Carr’s resume reads like a who’s who: many recordings, performances all over the world, 20 years as a member of the estimable Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio, and teaching positions at the New England Conservatory, Royal Academy of Music, and Stony Brook University in New York. He and pianist Sauer have made recordings and played all over the world. It takes a lot of moxie these days to record almost anything standard by Beethoven, but this pair as a lot to say in the music.

A period of eleven years separate the first sonatas from the Op. 69, and then seven more until the final works. In that time span the Beethoven of almost each of his stereotypical “periods” is heard in full force. The first ones are passionate yet structurally controlled, straining to expand beyond the duo into a world of symphonic scope. The Op. 69, which many regard as the lynchpin of the whole series, is full of ample and soaring lines which span a three-octave range, Beethoven was composing nine of his violin sonatas at the time, and ideas about range, expression, and especially form were foremost in his  mind. This work, glorious in its breadth and deep communicative essence, is one of the beauties of the catalog.

The final two sonatas, both completed in 1815, see the composer, just completing the Emperor Concerto,  reaching into new realms, places where only the late quartets would finally satisfy the incessant striving for sounds that perhaps ultimately could not be attained. Here we alternate the most exquisite lyricism with some of the most aggressive rhythmical elements in his entire oeuvre.

Rounding out the collection are three sets of variations, those from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, and Mozart’s Magic Flute (two sets of twelve and seven variations respectively). These are always included in complete sets, and though Beethoven expressed some dissatisfaction with them—two were not published, only the Mozart set of 12 meeting his aesthetic requirements—they are replete with fine classical structure and engaging technical facility in the originality of the variations.

Carr plays with an exceptionally smooth sound, one of he smoothest on record, and that element of his tonal quality seems to set the stage for the overall feeling of the interpretations as a whole. He is not obsessed with overplaying the dramatic elements or any sort of overly-emotive representation of Beethoven’s subtle and sometimes gossamer melodic filigree. This is not to say that power is lacking, only that he is content to allow Beethoven’s muscularity sufficient to the cause at hand without overplaying his hand. Sauer also understands this and partners Carr with exceptional understanding and support. The sound is burnished and analog-like with fine digital clarity and spaciousness.

—Steven Ritter

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