Gautier Capuçon / Frank Braley

Beethoven: Sonatas & Variations for Cello & Piano

(CD - Erato #0190295951139)

Review by

The Capuçon brothers, cellist Gautier and violinist Renaud, have been darlings of the English and Continental recital circuits with performances that have a lot of flair, effortless technical control, and an overall feeling of freshness. All those traits are in evidence in this traversal of Beethoven's music for cello and piano by Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley, which includes three rarely heard variation sets from the early part of the composer's career. Those make for something of a letdown if you listen to the set from beginning to end, for Capuçon and Braley excel in the two late sonatas, the Cello Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102, No. 1, and Cello Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102, No. 2. The pair shifts gears admirably through the cycle, with the graceful Classical approach of the pair of early Op. 5 sonatas contrasting sharply with the likes of the thorny final fugue in Op. 102, No. 2. The weak point here is the Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69, where Capuçon and Braley seem to try consciously to go counter to type, avoiding middle-Beethoven monumentality in favor of a rather breezy tone. It may work for you, and it may not, but the technical confidence of the players and their ability to react quickly to what the other is doing are impressive throughout. The sound, from Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps in Germany, is distant and off-putting.

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