Beethoven: Complete works for cello & piano

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Complete works for cello & piano
PERFORMER: Heinrich Schiff (cello), Till Fellner (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 462 601-2
Whatever one may think of these performances, there is no doubt that they command attention. Take the syncopated theme of the scherzo from the remarkably beautiful Op. 69 Sonata: Beethoven instructs the pianist to change finger on the second note of each ‘tied’ pair, and Carl Czerny, who played the work in the composer’s presence, maintained that the note should actually be sounded again. No one, to the best of my knowledge, has attempted to follow Czerny’s advice on a modern piano – until now. Till Fellner’s repeated notes (echoed in the cello’s answering phrases by Heinrich Schiff) shed entirely new, if controversial, light on the piece. So, too, do the long silences – for once given their full value – at the end of the slow introduction to the second of the Op. 5 Sonatas. But Schiff and Fellner are otherwise not so revisionist in these two early works.

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Less serious than the regrettable lack of repeats in their opening movement of Op. 5/2 is the question of the tempo of the concluding rondo – taken here in each case as an Allegretto, rather than the lively Allegro Beethoven seems to have wanted. Rostropovich and Richter (currently absent from the catalogue, but surely due for reissue) live much more dangerously – as do Maisky and Argerich (DG), though they are far too eccentric to recommend.

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Steering a middle course are the elegant, eloquent performances by Fournier and Kempff. As for Schiff and Fellner, they offer much food for thought (and, in the variation-sets based on Handel and Mozart, a good deal of wit), but ultimately their interpretations seem to add up to rather less than the sum of their parts. Misha Donat