Brahms Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Opp. 38 & 99; Klavierstücke, Op. 76
Kate Bennett Wadsworth (cello), Yi-heng Yang (piano)
Deux-Elles DXL 1181 67:52 mins
This recording presents Brahms’s cello sonatas on period instruments based on a penetrating study of the performance practice of the time. Yi-hen Yang performs on a 1875 Streicher piano similar to the one owned by Brahms. The sound is small scale with a silvery top and without the turbo-charged quality of a modern piano’s bass. This is particularly beneficial in the earlier E minor Sonata. Some may well have problems with the almost vocal quality of the solo cello playing. That said, the approach to phrasing and rubato is often illuminating, and overall the standard of playing is never less than expert, notably in the earnest finale of the E minor Sonata, the solo piano pieces and the first movement of the F major Sonata.
Unfortunately, the cello is not helped by a close recording which lacks amplitude and puts too much focus on the instrumental line, warts and all. This CD is in a category of its own and will certainly be of interest both to specialists and those seeking an insight into the performing practices of the late 19th century. Those wanting a more conventional view are well served by Rostropovich and Serkin in a classic recording on Deutsche Grammophon or more recent performances of passion and conviction by Páleníček and Čechová on Cube Bohemia.