To Brahms, With Love = BRAHMS: Cello Sonatas – Amit Peled, cello/ Noreen Polera, piano – CAP Records

Amit Peled applies his cherished Casals cello in the service of the two Brahms sonatas.

To Brahms, With Love = BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38; Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99 – Amit Peled, cello/ Noreen Polera, piano – CAP Records 016-1, 56:57 (6/1/18) [www.caprecords.org] ****:

Amit Peled extends his love affair with Pablo Casals’ 1733 Matteo Gofriller instrument (rec. 19-21 June 2017) by applying its luxurious sonority to the two Brahms cello sonatas, from 1865 and 1886, respectively.  Perhaps in deference to his revered Beethoven, Brahms created his first sonata for two different instruments for the cello, much as Beethoven had exerted his first efforts on a duo sonata to his Op. 5 pair of cello sonatas.  Brahms found instrumental inspiration in the playing of cellist Robert Hausmann. For the E minor Sonata, Brahms chose a theme taken from Bach’s The Art of Fugue—the Contrapunctus XIII—for his third movement Allegro, combining its three-voice, contrapuntal potential with sonata-allegro form. The opening movement, Allegro non troppo, exploits the cello’s low register to great effect. As early as measure 2, Brahms utilizes the interval of a minor sixth as a unifying device.  The piano’s syncopations move with the cello to the upper register, which will provide both a melody of poignant beauty and a source for a countersubject that wishes to have the two instruments contend with each other. Eventually, the various motifs and descents into the emotional depths will resolve into a grateful E Major.

A Viennese sensibility pervades the second movement, Allegretto quasi Menuetto, a delicately paced evocation of the dance in the minor mode of F. Some find in the tinged, darkly lit figures more of Mahler than Johann Strauss or Schubert. The soul of the cello rises in the Trio section, set in F-sharp minor, the key of Mozart’s second movement for his A Major Concerto, K. 488. The anguish seems even more poignant because of the keyboard’s right-hand, shimmering 16th notes. The last movement Allegro sails directly into strict counterpoint. Beethoven finds his own influence from elements of the Cello Sonata No. 5, Op. 102, No. 2. The series of inventions that ensue testify to mastery Brahms imbibed by his careful absorption of methods of stretto, inversion, and quick canonic imitation. That Peled’s cello can transform the “academic” austerity of the moment into a luscious, romantic evocation testifies to the miracle of the instrument. By the latter part of the movement, the pungent dialogue between Peled and Polera has become a “symphonic” affair, grandly driven to another fitting resolution —Piu presto—crafted by the wily Brahms.

The Swiss resort town of Thun provided Brahms with inspiration for several pieces, most notably his A Major Violin Sonata, Op. 100 and the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major. Cellist Robert Hausmann of the Joachim String Quartet again deserves credit for the work’s etiology, as well. Shifts in register and the production of “symphonic” clangor in the production of chords marked Hausmann’s celebrated technique. Both the keyboard and cello in the first movement Allegro vivace share tremolo effects and many a passing dissonance. Brahms exploits the interval of the fourth throughout, opening C-F and expanding the interval as he proceeds, especially in chains of eighth-note fourths. The emotional tenor of the first movement has little of the “old bachelor music” of his late piano music, rather driving and sighing in grand, effusive terms, with large, leaping figures in the melodic line.

The ungainly lilt of the Adagio affetuoso comes in the Neapolitan key of F-sharp Major. Pianist Polera has the opening melody over a series of pizzicato figures from Peled. Essentially a ternary-form lullaby, the music carries a mesmerizing charm about it, aided and abetted by the passionate luster of Peled’s instrument. Only the movement’s middle section proffers any sense of emotional turmoil, but the decorations of the opening figures relieve us of anxiety, the piano’s melody and the soft thumps of the cello’s pizzicatos’  melting into the melody for Peled once more. The ensuing Allegro passionato has the flavor of the early Hungarian Dances, chromatic and rife with syncopation. The rhythmic impulse could be a variation of the Beethoven “fate” motif. The piano retains the densely hued chromatics even while the Trio allows the cello its sustained moment of tender feelings.  The last movement, Allegro molto, exhibits a sense of optimistic energy. The cello leads in with a sweet tune followed by the piano with broad chords in the cello. Built in episodes, the music soon evolves into a march-figure in which Peled plays in double-stops and then a lyrical period in B-flat minor. The piano introduces a series of triplets while Peled utters a melody of darker beauty. The theme moves into a distant key, G-flat Major, the keyboard’s singing the line over cello pizzicatos and broad chords. The march returns, salient and driven, alternating with lyrical, sweeping gestures. Staccato statements of the tune in both parts lead to a vigorous coda, quite triumphant.  Record Producer Laura Garritson Parker has given us a resounding document of the Goffriller instrument in capable hands.

—Gary Lemco