Beethoven: Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69; Cello Sonata in C, Op. 102/1; D, Op. 102/2; 12 Variations on a theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69; Cello Sonata in C, Op. 102/1; D, Op. 102/2; 12 Variations on a theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus
PERFORMER: Mischa Maisky (cello), Martha Argerich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 437 514-2 DDD
The two Op. 102 sonatas are among Beethoven’s most epoch-making works. They stand right at the head of his last period (they were written before the Piano Sonata, Op. 101), and they anticipate many of the characteristic features of his final works – in particular, a preoccupation with open-ended cyclic structures and Baroque-inspired counterpoint. Beethoven significantly described the first work in the pair as a ‘free sonata’, while the second actually ends with a powerful fugue – a harbinger of the Hammerklavier Sonata’s colossal finale. As for the earlier Op. 69 sonata, it is perhaps the most perfectly balanced of all works for this problematic medium.

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These are compelling performances, stamped throughout with Martha Argerich’s forceful personality. She commands a formidable technique (though one bar in the Op. 69 sonata’s opening movement where her right hand goes momentarily astray should have been covered by a retake), and Maisky does well to keep up. Just occasionally, as in the second subject of Op. 69’s first movement, or the slow beginning of its finale, his rubato has more than a hint of self-indulgence about it; but this is not a serious reservation. The recording is first class: a clear, rich piano sound, and the cello never artificially forced through. Misha Donat