BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Piano and Cello = Sonata in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1; Sonata in G Minor, Op. 5, No. 2; Sonata in A Major, Op. 69; Sonata in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1; Sonata in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2; 12 Variations in G Major on “See, The Conquering Hero” from Judas Maccabaeus (Handel), WoO 45; 7 Variations in F Major on “Bei Maennern welche Liebe fuehlen” from Die Zauberfloete (Mozart), Wo0 46; 12 Variations in E-flat Major on “Ein Maedchen oder Weibsdchen” from Die Zauberfloete (Mozart), Op. 66 – Nancy Green, cello/ Frederick Moyer, piano – JRI Recordings J143 (2 CDs) 77:00; 79:00 (6/5/19) [www.jrirecordings.com] ****:
Cellist Nancy Green and pianist Frederick Moyer play a forceful set of Beethoven cello sonatas, well aware of their significance, not only for the Beethoven canon, but for having completely broken with that tradition which prohibited parity between the two instruments. The five cello sonatas of Beethoven occupy the composer’s three creative periods, 1797-1817 and establish the” modern” notion of the cello sonata. The Op. 5 pair, composed for Frederick William II of Prussia in 1796, had the benefit of the virtuoso cellist Jean-Louis Duport, whose technique would realize the elevated style of the two sonatas. Each begins with a kind of “French overture” effect, a slow Adagio sostenuto that will break loose in grand figurations in sonata-form.
Green plays a Paolo Antonio Testore instrument of Milan, 1732, and its sweetly piercing tone has the distinct advantage (rec. October 2015-October 2016) of the Engineering of Rafael Green and Mastering by Wiley Ross. The two sonatas of 1797 enjoy a sense of controlled improvisation, the kind of seamless spontaneity that guarantees the intimate spirit in chamber music. Moyer’s 1930 Steinway has a bright tone, marked by his acerbic attacks and clear articulation. Particularly striking, the extended cadenza in movement one from Op. 5, No. 1 displays the ethereal touch from Moyer and the hearty chest-tone from Green in runs and trills. The respective last movements, playful and virtuosic, enjoy the kind of rustic, drone figures favored by Haydn and Boccherini.
The 1808 A Major Sonata, Op. 69 stands aloof from the outer pairs of sonatas, and its melodic and dramatic kinship with expansive, fellow works like the Fifth Symphony and Fidelio assure its imperial status in the repertoire. Green’s opening forage into the melody, as she had in Op. 5, No. 2, bears a deeply intoned phraseology and controlled, pulsing vibrato. She quickly passes into the bass line in Op. 69, while Moyer extends the theme. Then, they both explode (in the leap of a fifth) into Allegro ma non tanto that often has Green sing in high registers. They take the first movement repeat, assuring us of the girth of the occasion. Green’s four string arpeggios prove indeed mighty. The equality of expression afforded each instrument makes us attend to the fateful, sometimes thundering, dialogue that unfolds, often in exquisitely poignant terms.
Both demonic and pastoral the ensuing Scherzo: Allegro molto defies us to define the beat, its surfeit of syncopations irreverently insistent. The cello, via double stops, introduces tow relatively serene sections in the form of trios. The brief Adagio cantabile provides two ecstatic minutes of concise sublimity. The highly animate Allegro vivace finale opts for percussive effects, with a lovely, poised melody that counteracts the bustling first motif. The chromatic twists and turns both Moyer and Green effect assume symphonic dimensions, some passages easily reminiscent of the more blistering, rocket moments in the Emperor Concerto.
The two sonatas of 1815 represent a new compression in Beethoven, expressively free but concise in form, contrapuntal, and often exhibiting moments of relative, improvisational flourish. The C Major, the “free sonata,” expresses in Ms. Green a subdued melancholy, Andante, marked teneramente set in descending an upward leap of a fourth. The music surges forth aggressively into movement two, Allegro, in A minor. The galloping motive plays against itself, softens, but its development, curtailed; and the coda, too, pungently ends in an abrupt gesture. Green instills a ruminative character in the Adagio: Tempo d’Andante, and she has a most affecting arioso. Both she and Moyer share a lyric trill. They move into a playful Allegro vivace again with the rising fourth motif. Drone figures and imitative effects color this attempt at frothy humor from a composer now enclosed in deafness.
Few compositions in Beethoven cause consternation in the manner of the D Major Sonata, Op. 102, No. 2. The four 16th notes and sudden leap of the Allegro con brio announce a series of fanfares that Green and Moyer execute with brusque directness. Even the melodic periods seem aggressive. By contrast, Green and Moyer deliver an Adagio con moto sentimento in the form of a hymn, a slow lament of even eighth notes worked out in a manner unique to the cello sonatas. Moyer’s dotted rhythm bass line undercuts the sense of consolation. Nevertheless, Green’s tone and color variety easily bring to mind the best days of Zara Nelsova and Jacqueline du Pre. The last movement presents a wizard’s notion of contrapuntal mastery, from what begins as a simple rising scale in both parts. Beethoven constructs a fugue (“with some licenses”) on two subjects, complete with Baroque practice in inversion, stretto, pedal points, and contrary motion. The passing dissonances in both parts, the register leaps, and “abstract” polyphony quite baffled the first auditors and performers, who deemed the music impossible and unplayable.
The music of Handel and Mozart engendered Beethoven’s three sets of variations, 1796-1801. For the Handel aria and Mozart aria, “Ein Maedchen oder Weibchen,” the piano clearly assumes the major role. But the third set, the Op. 66, bears the same parity of instrumental weight that the sonatas establish. The duet between Papageno and Pamina would seem to demand equality of expression, and Green and Moyer make the most of their alternate leads in the first four variations, and Green introduces a new theme in the last, seventh variation. The easy and persuasive harmony between Green and Moyer most admirably emerges in the Judas Maccabaeus set, with its combination of swagger and winning lyricism. A happy survey, this.
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