CHOPIN: Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65; Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 8; Grand Duo concertante in E Major – Andreas Brantelid, cello/Vilde Frang, violin/Marianna Shirinyan, piano – EMI Classics

CHOPIN: Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65; Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 8; Grand Duo concertante in E Major – Andreas Brantelid, cello/Vilde Frang, violin/Marianna Shirinyan, piano  – EMI Classics 6 87742 2, 68:42 ****:

It seems entirely appropriate that in this bicentenary of Chopin’s birth musicians celebrate the lesser known aspect of his impressive oeuvre, namely the few works that qualify as chamber music. The French cello virtuoso Auguste Franchomme (1808-1884) knew Chopin in Paris and remained a devoted friend, encouraging the Cello Sonata of 1846–the last piece to be published in the composer’s lifetime–with its unorthodox first movement, which refuses to recapitulate the main tune in the original key as classical form dictates. The dark hue of the Allegro moderato suits the talents of Andreas Brantelid (b. 1987) and pianist Marianna Shirinyan quite well (rec. 25-27 September and 13-15 October 2009) at Danmarks Radio, Copenhagen. The combination of hearty, even somber energy and alternate musings and declamations allow for virtuosic displays from both players, equally balanced in this powerful movement, which almost equals in length the remaining movements all together. 


The minor key Scherzo pirouettes skittishly and turns in vibrant, even slashing gestures, then breaks into lighthearted song. The broad central section contains a melody of considerable poignancy. The Largo inspires Chopin’s capacity for melodic simplicity, a nocturne of other-worldly repose. We must assume the lyric power of this sweet movement appealed directly to Franchomme’s particular gifts. The Finale: Allegro in its tricky metrics conceals a kind of tarantella, but its freedom of rhythm takes its cue from the Op. 62 Nocturnes and the Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61, each of whose iconoclastic incursions into sonata-rhapsodic structures keep us guessing where Chopin’s invention might have taken him had he another twenty years of life.


The Piano Trio of 1828-1829 contains the only writing Chopin did for the violin, albeit part of a larger context in which the piano clearly dominates. The first movement alternates between two affects, risoluto and espressivo. Hard piano octaves drive the first subject, with soft responses from the two strings. The fleet keyboard figures often invoke Hummel and Mendelssohn, certainly a more cosmopolitan sensibility than merely the national dances of Chopin’s native Poland. The exposition ends in G Minor, unusual and perhaps an homage to Beethoven’s unorthodox procedure in his four-movement trios. The latter part of the recap becomes quite animated in both keyboard and violin parts, the latter of which Vilde Frang (b. 1987) executes with slick aplomb. The Scherzo in G Major glides rather than frolics, the Trio section exhibiting a demure grace that sporadically bursts out in passionate chords. An aggressive opening belies the extended string chants of the Adagio sostenuto, which often alludes to the melos in Schubert. Marianna Shirinyan (b. 1978) opens the last movement solo, a Polish dance in the minor mode whose stamping rhythms often provide fodder for Dvorak’s imagination. When the harmonies coalesce into the balanced ensemble, they often indicate the Chopin whose maturity developed an idiosyncratic harmonic system. The last page has the piano explode in figures that we find in the more virtuosic krakowiaks a few years hence.

Chopin early in Paris (1831) fell under the spell of Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le Diable, calling it “a masterpiece of the modern school.”  In the manner of Liszt or Thalberg, Chopin evolved a piano introduction for his E Major Grand Duo concertante that dramatically prepares for the entrance of the cello, the writing for which Chopin consulted the talented Auguste Franchomme. The structure and rapturous use of tunes from Meyerbeer may have a model in the Op. 48 of Weber. The melodies often swagger or flutter, the octave work in the cello equal to the limpid acrobatics in the keyboard. Brantelid can project a sustained, sweet line of expansive power when he wants it. The last pages, too, tumble with the rollicking abandon of two instrumentalists at the height of spontaneous collaboration.

–Gary Lemco

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