LABELS: Evidence Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Cello Sonatas Nos 1-5; Variations – on ‘See the conquering hero comes’, ‘Bei manner, welche Liebe fühlen’, and ‘Ein mädchen oder Weibchen’
PERFORMER: Xavier Phillips (cello), François-Frédéric Guy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: EVCD 015
Beethoven composed his first two cello sonatas, Op. 5, and variation-sets during his 1796 visit to the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. Tailor-made for the virtuosity of the famous Duport brothers, who were employed by the cello-playing King, they were also meant to display Beethoven’s own prowess as a pianist. This new recording describes the music as being for cello and piano – a hierarchy that would have perplexed Beethoven and his contemporaries, since for them the primary instrument was the piano. Certainly this priority holds for these early sonatas; so in their otherwise fine recording Xavier Phillips is balanced a little too closely, so that there are moments when his accompaniment sounds more prominent than François-Frédéric Guy’s melodic line on the piano.
Still, these are really fine, dynamic accounts, with virtuosity appropriately to the fore. Particularly successful is No. 2 of the Op. 5 Sonatas, where, as Richter and Rostropovich did on their celebrated recording, both repeats are given in the opening movement, making it a very imposing piece indeed; but no less exhilarating are such pieces as the finale of the great Op. 69 Sonata No. 3, and the tricky concluding fugue of the last sonata, Op. 102 No. 2. Guy and Phillips also succeed in plumbing the depths of the latter sonata’s middle movement – the only sustained slow movement Beethoven wrote for this ensemble.