Brahms Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Hungarian Dances
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Alexandre Tharaud (piano)
Erato 9029572393 71:31 mins
Brahms’s First Cello Sonata, begun in Hamburg in 1862, seems to loom out of Baltic fog; the Second, composed in Switzerland in 1886, is mountain music – expansive, sun-lit and defiant. It’s not just a matter of tone and colour: the earlier sonata, while flawlessly constructed and paying its debt to JS Bach, requires a streak of youthful impetuosity. Many duos suppress its untamed nature in favour of scholarly sobriety. Jean- Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud, surprisingly, fall into this group, creating an austerely serious performance which verges on the dull. Speeds are sedate, dynamics carefully regulated; but we miss any savagery or turbulence from the first movement – something Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough on Hyperion deliver so brilliantly – and the Intermezzo floats by with highly controlled grace. The fugal finale is, again, taken at a sensible pace. A sensitive give-and-take between piano and cello, well- balanced throughout, steals from the antagonism latent in the writing.
The mighty Second Sonata inspires a riskier approach, both trading the clean-cut for a more craggy monumentalism. This Adagio surges from quiet purity to the grandest lyric expression, and the tricky, feather-light finale is negotiated with delightful refinement: Tharaud, a pianist of exquisite delicacy, is at his best here. The surprise highlight, though, are the six Hungarian Dances: aflame with character and devil-may-care virtuosity, this is Queyras at his most inspired. It’s just a shame that such spirit was not brought into the First Sonata.