Brahms: Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Cello Sonata in F, Op. 99

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: JRI Recordings
WORKS: Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Cello Sonata in F, Op. 99
PERFORMER: Nancy Green (cello), Frederick Moyer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: J 111 (distr. +1 603 659 8468; www.jrirecordings.com)
‘Economy yet richness’ was Arnold Schoenberg’s telling assessment of Brahms’s mature style. Nancy Green’s accounts of the cello sonatas have all the tonal richness anyone could desire, but the essential corollary, dignified expressive understatement, is often lacking. You feel it in the many whispered, sepulchral moments this music (particularly Op. 38) affords. Take the lead-back to the exposition repeat in the first movement of the E minor Sonata, or the start of its second movement minuet to illustrate this concern; Green sounds too ‘present’ at these nodal points which Brahms obviously intended should be the most secretive.

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Gestures of concealment aren’t needed, though, in the doggedly contrapuntal finale of Op. 38, where Frederick Moyer is fully supportive of Green’s vital, enervated style. But with Brahms, expressivity is often inversely proportional to gesture and theatricality and, thrilling though it may be, theirs is not the kind of Brahms-playing you’ll relish if you’ve grown accustomed to hearing this music in more restrained guise.

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Green and Moyer adopt the same ‘primary colour’ approach in their performance of Op. 99. It’s much the more convincing account, simply because this music can withstand such treatment rather better. Both readings are technically polished, and recorded sound is sonorous and wide-ranging. My preferred option remains the Channel Classics disc from Wispelwey and Komen, though collectors also seeking the Klengel transcription of the D major Violin Sonata, Op. 78, will find Maria Kliegel’s bargain Naxos disc impressive, despite pianist Kristin Merscher’s over-discreet accompaniments. Michael Jameson