Beethoven: Cello Sonatas (complete)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Genuin
WORKS: Cello Sonatas (complete)
PERFORMER: Alexander Baillie (cello), James Lisney (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GEN 03024
The most appealing feature of these performances is the sense that here are two musicians who genuinely enjoy playing together. Listening to Alexander Baillie and James Lisney in any of these five sonatas you might find yourself wondering at those sages past and present who claim that Beethoven lacked a sense of humour. The jack-in-the-box emergence of the finale theme of Op. 102/1 is pure, wicked comedy in Baillie and Lisney’s hands. And the outer movements of Op. 102/2 also have little to do with supposed ‘late’ Beethovenian solemnity. The slow movement of that final sonata, however, is another matter; and much as I like Baillie and Lisney’s shared musicality and expressive generosity here, in this case I feel their playing misses the essence (as it does in the tiny slow movement of Op. 69) – though the transition to the finale is again very well handled. Most of all, however, I get the feeling that these live performances may have been more satisfying in the concert hall than they are on CD. The recorded sound is problematical. The two instruments are well balanced, but the tone – especially the piano – is dry and tinny. Looking around for recommendable alternatives isn’t easy, though. One has to go either to the impressive period-instrument Suzuki-Kojima recordings on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, or better still to the Casals recordings from the Thirties, performances with both abundant vitality and deep expressive penetration. Stephen Johnson

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