Sonata for cello and piano in E minor, Op.38
Sonata for cello and piano in F, Op.99
Sonata for arpeggione and piano in A minor, D821
Natalie Clein (cello) & Charles Owen (piano)
Recorded 23-26 February 2004 in St Martins, East Woodhay
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: November 2004
CD No: CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 5861462
Duration: 78 minutes
A warm welcome for Natalie Clein’s first recording. It has taken some time to arrive – she is now in her late ‘20s – and it represents an intelligent combination of artist, repertoire and price-point. Good budget-price recordings of Brahms’s Cello Sonatas are hardly thick on the ground, and Clein’s is very good. The CD’s presentation, Misha Donat’s booklet-note, and the recording itself are all first-class.
I recall her fine playing of Brahms’s F major Sonata at a BBC Lunchtime Concert in 1999 but had first become aware of her a year previously when she played Elgar’s Concerto quite beautifully with Rozhdestvensky and the LPO at the Festival Hall.
From Clein and Charles Owen, it would unrealistic to expect that sense of a lifetime’s distilled experience in either of Brahms’s sonatas which one finds from partnerships such as Piatigorsky and Rubinstein, Fournier and Backhaus, or Rostropovich and Rudolf Serkin. However, even though one might wish for a more assertive pianist than Charles Owen, we have here a genuine partnership making music with sensitivity and all the freshness of first love. If I say that there is something very feminine about Clein’s playing this is not to imply that it is in any way under-powered, simply that she can turn a phrase in such a way that one can almost sense the gentleness of a woman’s voice behind the notes. In the delicate slightly archaic middle movement of the E minor Sonata, a difficult movement to bring off despite its apparent simplicity, one senses a slightly literal quality, all the notes in place, but a certain lack of fantasy, a reluctance to let the music fully off the leash. That said, nobody is likely to be seriously disappointed with either of these performances, which have the natural warmth and give-and-take of chamber music.
Equally good is the Arpeggione, a bowed-guitar instrument, now more or less extinct, and music that has been fair game to cellists for decades. Clein uses a lighter bow and really gets to the heart of the matter in the Adagio, which sings with an easy natural Schubertian grace. The finale too has a real smile on its face. A performance to rekindle one’s love for this music.