JS Bach, Brahms

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ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach, Brahms
‘Jesu, der du meine Seele’
(arr. Wieder-Atherton & Cooper); ‘Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit’ (arr. Kurtág); ‘Allein zu dir, Herr
Jesu Christ’ (arr. Wieder-Atherton
& Cooper)
Cello Sonatas: No. 1 in E minor,
CATALOGUE NO: 88697 201872


The idea for this intriguing disc came when Sonia Wieder-Atherton noticed a resonance between the opening of Brahms’s E minor Sonata and Bach’s Contrapunctus from The Art of Fugue. (Indeed, that Sonata’s last movement takes its theme from Contrapunctus 13, and Brahms veritably echoes with Bach). She begins with the joyful aria from Cantata BWV 78. It’s an appealing piece, but her tone sounds, in the aria’s words, ‘feeble yet brisk’ – delicate, perhaps to a fault. This airy approach works well in the two Bach pieces, and Atherton is truly violin-like in the serene, rhapsodic Op. 78 Violin Sonata. Here are two performers of one mind musically. Their interpretations of all three Brahms Sonatas are beautifully paced, distinctively shaped and detailed. They find the poetic heart of these sometimes gruff cello works. But while the fragile tracery of the Minuet and Trio from the E minor Sonata is well-nigh ideal, there are times when Atherton’s sound lacks the sustained energy needed to bring the music fully alive, particularly in the first movements and the great Scherzo of the F major Sonata. Accented notes are snatched and a broad sweep sacrificed for precision. There’s no sense of a molten power unleashed such as Isserlis brings to his performances. This is a shame, because Imogen Cooper’s performances here may well be the best on record. She is a pianist of enormous range and subtlety: her Sonata No. 2 has just that mercurial, febrile quality sometime lacking in her partner; Cooper can withdraw sound while keeping a miraculous depth of tone, and she can also build extraordinary crescendos without dominating the cello. Her reading of Kurtág’s arrangement of Bach’s BWV 106 ‘Actus tragicus’ is a haunting gem. Helen Wallace