Brahms: Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78 (arr. Hörr); Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Lieder (arr. Hörr)

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WORKS: Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78 (arr. Hörr); Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Lieder (arr. Hörr)
PERFORMER: Peter Hörr (cello), Cora Irsen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 643 1197-2
Unlike many a young artist, Natalie Clein has resisted the temptation to rush into the recording studio at the earliest opportunity. That such patience has brought considerable dividends is evident from this impressive and well-recorded debut CD which boasts a particularly sensitive and beautifully shaped account of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata. The work may not lie very easily on the cello, but Clein makes light work of its technical difficulties, delivering the brilliant passage work in its outer movements with an irresistible mixture of bravura and Viennese charm. Clein and her reliable partner Charles Owen also offer musically incisive accounts of the two Brahms sonatas. A high point in the performance of the F major is the sustained melodic intensity Clein achieves in the slow movement and the passionate drive of the ensuing scherzo. Less convincing is her rather chopped-up phrasing of the opening motif of the first movement. Other cellists, including her teacher Heinrich Schiff (Philips), Rostropovich (DG) and Alban Gerhardt (Harmonia Mundi), manage to delineate this idea with the same degree of nobility, but draw a more tangible sense of a unified melodic line. The E minor Sonata is a difficult work to bring off, and while the performance from Clein and Owen is engaging, not least in the charming elegance of the central minuet and the aggressive forward momentum in the finale, both players seem far less persuasive in negotiating the ebb and flow of the long first movement. Here Peter Hörr and Cora Irsen achieve greater spontaneity and fluidity, though in the rest of the work Hörr’s tendency to push things along almost relentlessly becomes self-defeating, and the reverberant and backwardly placed piano plays havoc with the balance. Nonetheless this disc is not without interest particularly since Hörr’s effective transcription of the G major Violin Sonata, unlike the more famous Klengel version, restores the work to its original tonality. Yet in a crowded field of excellent recordings of the Brahms Sonatas, neither of these versions matches the front-runners, especially with such luminaries as Rostropovich and Schiff in serious contention. For me, however, Alban Gerhardt’s recording, which generously includes the Klengel version of Op. 78, is perhaps the most satisfying of all. Erik Levi