Christoph Berner / Richard Harwood

Beethoven, Chopin: Sonatas

(Digital Download - EMI Classics #)

Review by

With his rich but clean tone and strong but fluent technique, it's clear that English cellist Richard Harwood spent time in Vienna studying with the great Heinrich Schiff. Restrained but deeply expressive, intelligent but profoundly soulful, virtuosic but less concerned with showing off his talent than with delving into the music, Harwood is imbued with the spirit of the central European tradition of selfless music-making. This approach works exceptionally well in his performance of Beethoven's A major Cello Sonata that opens the disc. The long-lined lyricism of his opening Allegro ma non tanto and Adagio cantabile along with the irresistible energy of his Allegro molto Scherzo and Allegro vivace finale ideally captures the piece's Janus-faced tone. The approach works almost as well in his performance of Chopin's Cello Sonata that closes the disc, which captures the work's aristocratic passion in flowing tempos and impulsive phrasing. The approach works less well in his performances of the four single-movement works at the center of the program. His Glazunov's Chant du ménestral is chastely beautiful and supremely effective, while his Rubinstein Mélodie in F major is lovely but perhaps too reserved to be entirely effective, his Offenbach's Les Larmes du Jacqueline is probably too muted to be altogether convincing, and his Popper's Elfentanz, though brilliantly played, is surely too studied to sound as reckless as the music requires. Still, as a young talent's debut recording, Harwood's recital is ultimately very impressive and deserves to be heard by anyone with an interest in young cellists. EMI's sound is clean and full, but not always as focused as it might be.

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