Your first thought on seeing this album might be the same as mine – There’s three sonatas here – how can that be? Brahms only wrote two cello sonatas! A close look at the fine print reveals that only the first first one is Brahms’ early actual cello-piano sonata. The second one is an arrangement of a violin sonata which is only attributed to the composer, and the third sonatas is the familiar Brahms Clarinet Sonata – sometimes performed on the viola – transcribed by cellist Wispelway for cello and piano.
In his notes Wispelway explains how he chose the three works to give a feeling of early, mid and late Brahms. The dates run 1865, 1878 and 1894. The early actual cello sonata is an unconventional work with several surprises. It has only three movements; Brahms removed the Adagio slow movement. The first movement is as lengthy as the other two put together. It has three main themes which are all combined in the intense conclusion of the movement. The second movement is an old-fashioned menuet, with a dramatic fugue at the end. The D Major Sonata retains the elegiac character of the original for violin, with the string instrument playing the role of a vocalese soloist.
The Clarinet Sonata also has a melancholy aspect to it, as does much late Brahms. However it is relieved in the fourth and final movement which conjures up the feeling of dance in a Vienna ballroom. Wispelway’s tone is clean and clear, perhaps not quite as rich or dramatic as that of Tilmann Wick in a competing SACD version of the early cello sonata on Audite, but with lovely phrasing and fine support from pianist Lazic.
– John Sunier