Brahms: Cello Sonatas and Songs

Cellist Gabriel Schwabe and pianist Nicholas Rimmer play Brahms's cello sonatas and songs.

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Cello sonatas and songs
PERFORMER: Gabriel Schwabe (cello), Nicholas Rimmer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573489

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It’s refreshing to hear the first movement of Brahms’s E minor Cello Sonata taken at a true Allegro tempo. All too often, performers treat the music in an unduly lugubrious manner as if to suggest the composer really intended it to be an expansive Andante. Yet although I applaud the purposeful manner in which both Gabriel Schwabe and Nicholas Rimmer unfold the musical narrative, there is also a tendency to ride roughshod over certain unexpected harmonic changes thus reducing the emotional impact of the music and downgrading its originality. A good example occurs at the beginning of the development where Rimmer’s modulation to a distant key is disappointingly perfunctory as if to suggest the gesture is not particularly interesting. Schwabe and Rimmer are more sensitive to the unpredictable harmonic twists in the middle section of the second movement, but the Minuet itself seems hectic and bereft of the courtly elegance surely intended by the composer.

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Similar issues arise in the F major Sonata. On the one hand, Schwabe and Rimmer bring lots of drive and energy to the outer movements and they build up the tension in the Allegro appassionata to a powerful climax. Yet in general their approach is far too unyielding. There is an unwillingness to allow the music to breathe and offer greater moments of repose, with the mysterious tremolando passage in the middle of the first movement sounding four-square. Ironically, the fluidity and subtlety that seems to have eluded both performers in the Sonatas is far more in evidence in their enterprising transcriptions of Six Songs, all of which are projected with affection and bags of charisma. Erik Levi