Brahms, R Strauss, Thuille: Cello Sonatas

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,R Strauss,Thuille
WORKS: R Strauss: Cello Sonata in F, Op. 6; Brahms: Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Thuille: Cello Sonata in D, Op. 22
PERFORMER: Jamie Walton (cello), Daniel Grimwood (piano)


I was impressed by Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood’s recent recording of Rachmaninov and Grieg sonatas (Signum). This recital of Romantic German repertoire proves more of a challenge for the duo. 

In Strauss’s sunlit early Sonata, Grimwood’s mastery of pace and form is arresting, and Walton is more than equal to its elegant bravado, despite what feels a rather boomy acoustic. In their wonderfully spooky first movement of Brahms’s E minor Sonata, the accent is on mystery rather than urgency, particularly in the repeat of the opening where Grimwood achieves a miraculous penumbral hush, his falling phrases glistening like drops in a twilit mist – an absolute high point of the performance.

Walton’s wistfully graceful intermezzo is apt, but by the fugal finale I was beginning to miss energy and definition in his playing. This is one of Brahms’s most ‘academic’ movements, and hard to pull off unless it goes hell for leather, as Isserlis and Hough proved in their coruscating reading (Hyperion).

It’s also in this movement that some flaws become perceptible in Walton’s playing, with notes squashed or distorted, which wouldn’t be so obvious had he found the fire and momentum the music demands. Instead, the interplay between instruments starts to feel too deliberate. 


This carefulness is also present in Ludwig Thuille’s Sonata, which is played with great commitment (Walton’s sound is sheerly beautiful in the slow movement) but too often lacks direction. Of course, some of these problems are inherent in this big-boned, ambitious, somewhat over-written piece by Strauss’s Austrian colleague, but it cries out for a more articulate and stream-lined cello line against the tumult of its piano part. Helen Wallace