In his liner notes for these December 2004 inscriptions, cellist Peter Wispelwey claims he wanted to “baptize” his 1760 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini instrument with a recording, as well to formalize some seven years’ work in these pieces with pianist Dejan Lazic. Generally, Wispelwey chooses extremely brisk tempos for his renditions of the sonatas, following the practice of Carl Czerny, so pianist Lazic has his hands moving. The Rondo of the F Major Sonata abounds in high spirits, after some gloomy moments earlier, and Lazic’s deft fingers play a bravura piano part (on a modern Steinway D) which never loses the leggierezza required to maintain dynamic balance with Wispelwey’s suave cello. The electric tension in the Allegro molto piu tosto presto movement of the G Minor Sonata is equally infectious. The sudden sforzati jump out like crouching cats, even as the keyboard part for the final Allegro achieves a music-box sonority. The textural richness of Beethoven’s often symphonic writing reverberates via the surround sound acoustics of the engineering, courtesy of C. Jared Sacks.
The Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s Ein Maedchen oder Weibchen (1797) from The Magic Flute fully demonstrate Beethoven’s improvisational capacities, utilizing staccato, syncopated, and metrically knotty effects. The sheer speed of execution, especially in repeated notes and rapid arpeggios, will urge an awed nod or two. When Wispelwey sings, as in the two huge Adagio sostenuto sections of the Op. 5 sonatas, his cello’s cantabile proves a troubadour who can lure any lady from her high castle. The Handel Variations from Judas Maccabeus (1796) permit piano and cello to strut their individual virtues with pomp and vigor. The “Mannheim rocket” figures, as well as the moments of pungent musical wit, reverberate heartily, especially in Wispelwey’s lower registers.
The second disc opens with the perennial superstar of the set, the A Major, Op. 69 (1808), the ultimate romantic synthesis of form and dramatic impulses. Even the 18-bar Adagio cantabile evokes in concentrated form the intense tumult of the G Major Piano Concerto. The comraderie and sense of brio the extends into the pair of 1815 sonatas, each a model of Beethoven’s economical, terse classicism. Their restraint still communicates a repressed lyricism fertilized by learned counterpoint. The Variations on Bei Maennern alternately bubble and sigh, allowing Wispelwey to deliver diaphanous and facile lines with contrived abandon. Solid musicianship on all counts, along with often startlingly good sound reproduction.