Beethoven: Complete Cello Sonatas 1-5

Ailbhe McDonagh / John O'Conor

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Beethoven: Complete Cello Sonatas 1-5 Review

by James Manheim

Beethoven's five cello sonatas, neatly falling into two early works, two late, and one substantial middle-period work, have been well served by top cellists, but several factors commend this release from cellist Ailbhe McDonagh and veteran pianist John O'Conor. The album was recorded in mid-2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, and although it's hard to make definitive statements in this regard, it shares a contemplative, deeply worked-out quality with some other recordings made during this period. More concretely, McDonagh and O'Conor share the relationship, unusual in this repertory, of student and teacher; McDonagh is a pianist as well as a cellist. The coordination between the two musicians sets this recording apart, and each sonata is individually conceived. The two early works of Op. 5 have a pastoral flavor, while the two late sonatas are deliberate and deeply appreciative of the complexity of the music. McDonagh and O'Conor avoid heroic tones here, but they broaden their sound for the middle-period Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69, with its idealistic and inspiring Beethoven melodies. There is a lot to absorb here, and it's the kind of recording to which one will return repeatedly. Steinway's church sound is a bit remote for this true chamber performance.

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