Beethoven: Complete Music for Cello & Piano

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips Duo
WORKS: Complete Music for Cello & Piano
PERFORMER: Mstislav Rostropovich, Maurice Gendron (cello), Sviatoslav Richter, Jean Françaix (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 442 565-2 ADD (1963/67)
Since Beethoven wrote his cello sonatas over many years, they reflect, in miniature, both his development and the evolution of the duo sonata. This set is useful in being complete, but unsatisfactory in that it does not present a single reading. Before listening, I was disappointed to see that Rostropovich was only playing the sonatas, but afterwards I was disappointed that it was Maurice Gendron who took the back seat with the three sets of variations. The two cellists (and pianists) could hardly be more different: Gendron, overshadowed in his lifetime by Tortelier and Fournier, is a master of Classical elegance. His sound is brightly focused, the variations full of dapper incision, while Françaix’s quavers fall like soft rain-drops. The Russian’s playing is a curious mixture of roughness and restraint. At best, as in the G minor Allegro molto, he is wistfully unaffected, but at worst, as in the Fifth Sonata in D, both players can sound disengaged, even tired, and too many notes ring falsely. Helen Wallace