The Conquering Hero – Cello Sonata No. 1 in F; No. 2 in G minor; No. 3 in A; No. 4 in C; No. 5 in D; Sonata for Piano with Horn or Cello in F, Op. 17; 12 Variations WoO 45; 12 Variations, Op. 66; 7 Variations, WoO 46
Jennifer Kloetzel (cello), Robert Koenig (piano)
Avie AV2450 168:51 mins (3 discs)
If only more cellists played like this – and at this level of ceaseless musicianship. We live in a age when many of Jennifer Kloetzel’s soloist colleagues evidently feel the need to perform concertos and chamber music alike with relentless and turbocharged weight of tone. As always, there are different ways of doing things, as this release makes memorably clear.
Kloetzel bases her musical life in California, where she combines a teaching position at University of California Santa Barbara with concerto and recital engagements. The tone she draws from her chosen instrument (a 1901 Camillo Mandelli) is warm, unexaggerated and beautifully focused, avoiding any sense of hectoring even in Beethoven’s trademark rumbustious passage-work. The result is a masterclass (in the happiest non-academic sense) in how to engage with the most powerful creative personality that music has known, while at the same time drawing the listener’s awareness into each work’s inner processes and world of expression, rather than pinning back one’s ears in the process. And there is a true musical team at work here. Robert Koenig’s choice of a mellow-voiced Blüthner piano for his alert accompanying connects exactly with Kloetzel’s artistry: when the two instruments are in dovetailed duet, there are moments when they seem to sound fascinatingly alike.
The collection’s title is taken from the theme of the busily entertaining variations on Handel’s ‘See the Conquering Hero comes’ (there are two other sets of the same species, based on themes from Mozart’s The Magic Flute). The ‘Conquering Hero’ idea also relates to William Meredith’s statement to Kloetzel, quoted by her before his booklet note, that ‘if there were only the five cello sonatas Beethoven left of all his music, these alone would have cemented his place in history.’ The claim is not ridiculous. The cycle ranges from the headstrong rhythmic energy of the two early Op. 5 works, through the inner immensity of the middle-period A major Sonata Op. 69, to the late Op. 102 pair where the music seems to have moved into new and remote worlds that only Beethoven ever saw.
Kloetzel’s playing responds unerringly to the shift of creative tone at each stage of the composer’s development. In the Op. 5 pair of sonatas, a real sense comes across of how startling the music’s boldly expanded scale and sheer firepower must have sounded to its first listeners. The central-period A major Sonata, inscribed by Beethoven ‘Inter lacrimas et luctum’ (Amid tears and grief), was written in the wake of his rejected wish to marry Countess Josephine Brunswick; Kloetzel’s playing searches out every corner of the work’s emotional depth and expansive mastery. And her delivery of the slow movement of Op. 102 No. 2 conveys mesmerisingly that this is one of Beethoven’s supreme statements. She also includes the Sonata Op. 17, first published as being ‘for Horn or Violoncello’ and probably arranged as such by Beethoven; it’s non-vintage material, but certainly makes up for this in scarcity value.