Recordings of the pieces on this album are not rare; the two late cello sonatas show up on numerous complete sets of the Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano, and most Beethoven pianists have undertaken the bagatelles at one time or another. Yet the pairing of the two late cello sonatas with the composer's second and third sets of bagatelles is more unusual and quite instructive. The two cello sonatas and the second half of the Bagatelles, Op. 119 (the first five were composed earlier), lie early in Beethoven's last creative period. They are wildly experimental pieces in which the composer worked out details of his late style: compact, foursquare tunes set against each other in unexpected ways, mystical slow melodies, drastic formal freedom, and what is often overlooked in all the talk of the transcendent qualities of Beethoven's late style, is that they are often funny. Cellist Roel Dieltiens and fortepianist Andreas Staier, the latter playing a copy of an 1827 Graf fortepiano, emphasize both the experimental and the comic in these works. In the bagatelles, Staier perhaps takes the humor a bit too far, with buzzing noises and a kind of piano mute at the end of the 14-second Bagatelle, Op. 119, No. 10, but generally, his interpretations are very strong. In the bizarre, ragtime-like Bagatelle in B minor, Op. 126, No. 4, he gets the right balance between keeping to the Presto tempo marking and making room for the syncopations. The two cello sonatas are even better. Dieltiens and Staier create an exploratory feel that diverges considerably from most of the heavier readings on the market but seems true to the works. With superb Teldex Studio sound, this is a recording that should have considerable appeal beyond historical performance circles.
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas & Bagatelles Opp. 102, 119 & 126 Review
by James Manheim