Beethoven wrote sympathetically for the cello throughout his career, from the ardent, lyrical voice of the Op.1 piano trios onwards, and he rarely subjugated the instrument to its basso continuo role still prevalent in the works of Mozart and Haydn. He never contemplated a cello concerto, but his five sonatas, plus sets of crowd-pleasing variations on popular themes by Handel and Mozart, have attracted the great cellists of every era. However, the record catalogue boasts comparatively few period-instrument accounts, made according to the performing principles and bowing of Beethoven’s day, and so this new Brilliant Classics set promises a new and refreshing perspective on some perennially audacious masterpieces.
The Op.5 Sonatas are intended to
astound as well as to innovate. For the first time in the history of the cello repertoire, both instruments were invested with equal
importance. The piano writing is scarcely less bold and quick-thinking, requiring both musicians to turn on a sixpence from soloist to accompanist and back again, emulating the more equal dialogue of a string quartet. Formal novelty is also in evidence, in the expanded slow introductions and then in the four-movement structures of Op.69 and Op.102 No.1. In every way the last sonatas belongs to Beethoven’s late period: posing questions to listeners as well as performers with every bar, transcending the limits of the instruments to sing and shout, contemplate and argue.
The partnership of Mario Testori and
Costantino Mastroprimiano is an experienced one, with a well-received Brilliant Classics album (95023) of late-Classical sonatas by Hummel, Moscheles and Ries to its credit. The pianist also contributes an enlightening booklet essay to this valuable contribution to the Beethoven anniversary year.
Filling “only” two CD’s, the complete works for cello and piano are quintessential and vintage Beethoven. The two youthful Opus 5 sonatas are written in virtuoso concerto style, with an especially glittering role for the piano (Beethoven was a tremendous pianist in his early years), the sonata Op. 69 is in the expansive, sonorous and deep-feeling tonal language of Beethoven’s Middle-Period, whereas the two Late sonatas Op. 102 are marvels of originality, experiment, “quirkiness” and humanity.
This new recording is played on period instruments by two seasoned specialists in the HIP movement (Historically Informed Performance Practice): Formerly of ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, cellist Marco Testori has performed in concert halls around the world, including London’s Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York. He is Professor of Baroque Cello at Salzburg’s Universität Mozarteum. Costantino Mastroprimiano is an accomplished and respected fortepianist, who has extensively recorded for Brilliant Classics, notably the complete Piano Sonatas by Clementi and Hummel, as well as works by Alkan, Moscheles, Ries and others.