LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Cello Sonatas, Op. 5; Variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen,
PERFORMER: Hidemi Suzuki (cello), Yoshiko Kojima (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77519 2
To those brought up on the emotionally generous du Pré and Rostropovich recordings, Janos Starker’s view of Beethoven will seem – well – starker. This is the old idea of Classicism: intellectually acute, often intense, but with the emotions contained, and above all no unseemly humour. Starker and pianist Rudolf Buchbinder are a fine duo, and the results can be impressive – the opening Adagio of the G minor Sonata has a dark, architectural grandeur unlike any other performance I’ve heard. The playing may be a few degrees below comfortable warmth in the lovely Adagio cantabile of the A major Sonata, but always this is a view of Beethoven that commands respect.
Still, it was the Suzuki-Kojima period instrument versions that really brought the music to life for me. Wisely, Suzuki and Kojima confine themselves to the earlier works; the limitations of the fortepiano would become more glaringly obvious in the Op. 102 sonatas. This is zestful, quick-witted playing – in places almost like a rapid-action comic double act. Suzuki can be highly expressive, and fortunately he has no modern prudish objection to vibrato; but the final impression is that making this disc was terrific fun – a reminder of Charles Rosen’s contention that the so-called ‘Classical Style’ was born out of 18th-century comic opera. Both versions are well recorded and, crucially, convincingly balanced; however, the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi disc tends to confirm that the lighter fortepiano is a more equal partner for the cello in this music. For a Beethoven with wit and humour as well as ardour and gritty power, that’s the one to have. Stephen Johnson