Brahms: Cello Sonatas; Lieder (arr. Cello & piano)

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Cello Sonatas; Lieder (arr. Cello & piano)
PERFORMER: Mischa Maisky (cello), Pavel Gililov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 459 677-2
Mischa Maisky’s inclusion of transcriptions of some of Brahms’s well-known songs may cause a raised eyebrow or two, but it’s worth remembering that Clara Schumann and Brahms’s violinist friend Joseph Joachim frequently performed his Lieder in this way; and that two of Brahms’s violin sonatas themselves have important links with his songs. Maisky’s plays his selection with aching tenderness, but after a while the effect becomes cloying, and one begins to long for something a little less exquisitely refined. The Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk also supplements his recording of the Brahms sonatas with a group of songs, playing them with rather more naturalness, yet without yielding anything to Maisky in expressive intensity.

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Maisky’s lingering approach also mars his performance of the E minor Sonata. Brahms’s long opening melody has a piano accompaniment unfolding in a regular pulse, but Maisky’s rhythmic waywardness – particularly when the theme returns at the start of the recapitulation, overlaid with ‘running’ piano part – makes it difficult for his admirable pianist, Pavel Gililov, to maintain the flow. And in the coda of the same movement, Maisky’s search for expressive profundity almost causes the music to grind to a halt. Once again, Mørk is preferable; as he is in the final fugue, where he imparts greater weight to the music. When it comes to the impassioned F major Sonata, however, honours are much more evenly divided. Mørk still has the richer tone, but Maisky and Gililov are generally admirable and they convey considerably more pent-up tension in the dramatic scherzo. Misha Donat