Suren Bagratuni

Beethoven: Complete Sonatas and Variations for Cello & Piano

(CD - Blue Griffin Recording #171)

Review by

Beethoven's works for cello and piano span each of his three major style periods, a fact that even the violin's extensive repertoire cannot boast. As with other genres that extend throughout Beethoven's compositional output, one of the many challenges to performers is to reasonably showcase the differences between these style periods. This complete set by cellist Suren Bagratuni and pianist Ralph Votapek is only partially successful at achieving this goal. Working backwards, the two sonatas of Op. 102 lean nicely toward the Romantic without being overly indulgent. Bagratuni's right arm is extremely intense, with the bow almost continuously remaining in the string. This powerful, almost labored sound actually works quite nicely for these two late sonatas. The same in-the-string, non-stop tenuto sound is maintained, however, as we go backward in time to the famous Op. 69 sonata. In this sonata, Bagratuni's sound quality and fervor are still mostly acceptable. The same cannot be said for the three variation sets, nor for the two sonatas of Op. 5. Bagratuni's relentless right arm simply becomes too much for these sonatas, works in which the piano should be at least equal to the cello if not slightly in the forefront. Other technical aspects of Bagratuni's playing are generally strong, although intonation is not always as precise as it should be.

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