Steven Isserlis / Robert Levin

Beethoven: Cello Sonatas

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With numerous available recordings of Beethoven's music for cello and piano available, one might wonder what British cellist Steven Isserlis has to add on this Hyperion release, which includes not only the five Beethoven cello sonatas but three entertaining early sets of variations and a transcription, by Beethoven himself, of the Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17. The answer lies in Isserlis' decision to record the works with a fortepiano, in this case an instrument built by American-Czech maker Paul McNulty and based on a Viennese Walter model of 1805. It's hard to imagine a more appropriate instrument, and the conception by Isserlis and Levin here is of music that pushes the rapidly developing piano to its limit. Sample the Adagio introductions to the early Op. 5 sonatas in F major and G minor, where the fortepiano adds a murky atmosphere of mystery that accords perfectly with the ways in which Beethoven was pushing beyond Classical form. The two late Op. 102 sonatas are truly impressive here, catching the two works' quality of compact abruptness without adding a savagery that for Beethoven was in all likelihood not there. In the middle-period Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69, and in the long central movements of the Op. 5 sonata, traditionalists may miss a broadness in the melodies, but they should spend some time attuning their ears to the instruments here to find an intimacy (not really well-supported by the engineering this time out) that really engages with the muscle and thinking of Beethoven's compositional process. Highly recommended.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Cello Sonatas, Op. 102
1 2:53
2 5:11
3 3:15
4 4:27
5 6:42
6 8:11
7 4:34
8 11:24
9 9:16
10 8:54
Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17
11 7:50
12 1:18
13 5:05
blue highlight denotes track pick