Ralph Kirshbaum and Shai Wosner play Beethoven’s Complete Sonatas and Variations

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Complete Sonatas and Variations for Cello and Piano
PERFORMER: Ralph Kirshbaum (cello), Shai Wosner (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4178

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The thrill of new discovery can be uplifting in a performance; so too can the depth that comes from long experience – especially in repertory like this. Somehow or other, Ralph Kirshbaum and Shai Wosner manage to combine a sense of both. It would be easy to say that Kirshbaum brings the mature wisdom, Wosner (who can’t have had so many opportunities to play these works) the relatively youthful freshness. But like everything else in these remarkable accounts, those qualities are shared. Sometimes it’s like listening to two people excitedly bouncing ideas off each other; at others it’s like a love duet, or even the kind of intense parting conversation in which every word counts to an almost painful degree – the final stages of the slow movement of Op. 102 No. 2 are a breathtaking example of the latter.

Even the relatively slight variation sets sound as though they’ve been weighed to the last note. But if that suggests heaviness, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The wit and childlike humour discovered in, for instance, the Variations on Mozart’s ‘Bei Männern’ then feeds back into the Sonatas themselves, and not just the early ones. The transition from the slow movement of Op. 102 No. 2 to the finale (Kirshbaum and Wosner are marvellous at transitions) brings a sudden release – rarely has a late(ish) Beethoven fugue sounded so light of heart. There are more extrovert, more dazzlingly charismatic versions, to be sure, but few that get so close to the complex truth of this music.

Stephen Johnson

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