Brahms: Cello Sonatas

Torleif Thedéen / Roland Pöntinen

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Brahms: Cello Sonatas Review

by Mike D. Brownell

After titanic contributions to the cello sonata repertoire by Ludwig van Beethoven, few notable additions were made for several decades. Not until 1862 did the cello sonata re-emerge in the hands of Johannes Brahms. His peculiar First Sonata contains only three movements (the Adagio having been omitted for fear of the sonata being too lengthy) and a finale that all but defies formal analysis. Almost a quarter century passed before Brahms again returned to the cello sonata, this time in the key of F major. The second sonata is considerably more challenging for cellists and Brahms' treatment of the instrument is not the exclusively lyrical, sonorous melodies that one might expect. Rather, Brahms incorporates lots of rhythmic, motivic playing and pizzicato passages and rapid bariolage. A "third" cello sonata, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, is Paul Klengel's (whose cello-playing father was much admired by Brahms) transcription of the G major Violin Sonata. Heard here in the more cello-friendly key of D major, this transcription is marvelously done and easily convinces listeners that Brahms would likely have approved of the idea. Performing these three wonderful sonatas on this BIS album is cellist Torleif Thedéen and pianist Roland Pöntinen. The duo create what is quite simply one of the most engaging, riveting recordings these works have received in more than a decade. Thedéen's playing is technically immaculate, with a pure, penetrating tone that is even across the range of his instrument, flawless intonation, and broad-ranging dynamics. His approach to the sonatas is one of intensity and subtlety, expansiveness, and large, sweeping gestures. Pöntinen's playing is just as refined and commanding. Despite the thick textures often found in the piano, his execution is neither muddy nor overpowering, yet neither musician has to hold anything back for the sake of balance. Even for listeners with a dozen other recordings of these works, this album is absolutely worth making an extra spot on the shelf for.

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