LABELS: Sony Vivarte
WORKS: Cello Sonatas, Op. 5/1 & 2, Op. 69 & Op. 102/1 & 2
PERFORMER: Anner Bylsma (cello), Jos van Immerseel (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: S2K 60761
Anyone who heard Anner Byslma and Malcolm Bilson in their 1989 Nonesuch recording of Beethoven’s great A major Cello Sonata, Op. 69, and the futuristic Op. 102 pairing (of 1815) must have wondered why they didn’t finish the job. As expected, Bylsma’s Beethoven challenged orthodoxy and overturned conventions, but this potentially defining exploration didn’t progress, leaving Anthony Pleeth’s survey (now outstanding value as a mid-priced reissue), with Melvyn Tan, as the only complete periodist cycle.
Now Bylsma returns to Beethoven with Jos van Immerseel, but their new traversal is still not entirely complete, even though Beethoven’s oeuvre for cello and piano fits comfortably on to two CDs. Two variation sets have been omitted and the discs have been incorrectly labelled. Given Sony’s disc-printing errors, and quirky production oversights, not even HC Robbins Landon’s compelling booklet notes bring this set into benchmark contention at full price.
Those caveats aside, there’s a powerful symbiosis between these artists. The soulful musings of Op. 102/2’s matchless Adagio (Beethoven’s finest for these instruments, and entirely characteristic of his ‘middle’ period) are eloquently captured, with hardly a phrase from Immerseel that’s not profoundly loaded with meaning. Bylsma, too, is on fine form, but his new version of Op. 69 is less volcanic than the earlier Nonesuch account. The Op. 5 pairing, of 1796, previously unrecorded by Bylsma, sounds exemplary, but since Christophe Coin’s Harmonia Mundi survey with Patrick Cohen is also unfinished, Pleeth and Tan are out front among the authenticists, and unmissable at the price. Michael Jameson