Sonata No.1 in B flat for Cello and Piano, Op.45
Sonata No.2 in D for Cello and Piano, Op.58
Variations concertantes, Op.17
Lied ohne Worte, Op.109
Paul Watkins (cello) & Huw Watkins (piano)
Recorded 10-12 May 2011 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: December 2011
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10701
Duration: 63 minutes
Mendelssohn proved to be the natural heir to Beethoven in the development of the sonata for cello and piano, continuing to treat the two instruments on equal terms but further expanding the cello’s lyrical and expressive capabilities.
The First Cello Sonata is one of Mendelssohn’s most affirmative chamber works, though from brothers Paul and Huw Watkins it starts a little tentatively, the cellist reaching his first F with less conviction than might be expected. Gradually the opening movement unfolds with greater fluency, and when the exposition repeat is taken the cello is much more at home, imposing the second theme with impressive poise. In the lightly playful scherzo, Huw Watkins shows impressive dexterity, a feature of his playing frequently revealed in the technically challenging Second Sonata. Here the piano sounds chunkier, the chords more full-bodied, but the pianist’s lightness of touch ensures clarity of the melodic line. The sonatas’ fast movements are busy, packed full of melody and energy, qualities that Paul Watkins warms to with a broad, legato approach. The fresh invention and easy continuity of Mendelssohn’s writing is revealed: these are compositions that should be at the very centre of the cello repertoire rather than towards the edges.
Variations concertantes, written when Mendelssohn was nineteen, is relatively polite to begin with, classical roots showing, but gradually composer and performers become more adventurous. Paul is airy in his phrasing, while Huw is typically attentive, negotiating octaves and quick-fire melodies particularly well. Song without Words, an encore favourite among cellists, is here poised and elegant, but would benefit from a more-romantic approach.
This is a fine survey of Mendelssohn’s works for cello, immediately recorded with good balance, if not perhaps an outright leader given the crowded catalogue and such stiff competition from Isserlis and Tan, and Meneses and Wyss. Meneses has the more ‘complete’ collection, with the inclusion of an Assai tranquillo movement and Alfredo Piatti’s arrangement of Venetianisches Gondellied.