Alkan & Chopin Cello Sonatas – Alban Gerhardt & Steven Osborne

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Alkan
Sonata in E for Cello and Piano, Op.47
Chopin
Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op.65

Alban Gerhardt (cello) & Steven Osborne (piano)

Recorded 17-19 December 2007 in Henry Wood Hall, London


Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: HYPERION CDA67624
Duration: 63 minutes

 

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It’s curios how ‘pianist-composers’ often chose the cello as their second instrument, some even writing their only examples of chamber music with it. Chopin and Alkan both wrote sonatas on an impressive scale for the cello, both written as a result of their Parisian friendship with Auguste-Joseph Franchomme.

Franchomme, the dedicatee of Chopin’s Sonata, played the Alkan in its first performance. The only mystery with this work is why it has remained on the outer fringes of the cello repertory, as it is an exciting piece. Set in the bright key of E major it is full of melodic invention, wit, emotion and – as is to be expected – no little virtuosity.

Both instruments are treated equally, and Hyperion’s recording, though somewhat close to the cello at times, ensures the intricacies of the piano part are fully heard, wonderfully played by Steven Osborne. Both protagonists forge their way through an exuberant start, uncannily foreshadowing the Brahms of the Opus 99 Cello Sonata in its forthright delivery.

Throughout there is an impressive urgency to Alban Gerhardt’s playing, so that even the lengthy Adagio does not outstay its welcome. The finale is the star, though – a dance of vivacious character that brings out the very best from both players, who are clearly listening to each other. When the sparkling final pages turn unexpectedly towards the minor key this does not darken the performance, and rather serves as a key example of Alkan’s tendency to throw in something unexpected, to good effect.

In the company of such a starry work even Chopin’s Cello Sonata sounds a little introspective as it begins, but this is an emotionally and tonally elusive work. Once again piano and cello are equals, with Osborne’s thoughtful introduction setting the tone. The way that both performers bring rubato to the dance of the second movement is very tasteful, giving a real sense of ebb and flow to the phrasing.

Less immediate than the Alkan, the Chopin needs further listens to secure familiarity, but the rewards are many. Particularly enjoyable is the singing upper register Gerhardt secures for the second theme of the second movement. This is an excellent recital of two closely linked works, finely played.

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