Johannes Moser & Paul Rivinius at Wigmore Hall – Brahms & Britten

Sonata No.1 in E minor for Cello and Piano, Op.38
Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, Op.65

Johannes Moser (cello) & Paul Rivinius (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 21 May, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Johannes Moser. Photograph: Manfred Esser / hänsslerCLASSICThe first movement of Brahms’s E minor Cello Sonata is an ideal illustration of how to structure the intensity of a ‘sonata form’ movement, growing from seemingly innocuous beginnings. In this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert Johannes Moser and Paul Rivinius demonstrated this gradual development to great effect, starting with the sombre yet sonorous tones of the cello in its lowest register, supported by soft chord-pulses from the piano. Moser assumed a dominant role for the first two movements, due in part to his elevated position, sat on a raised platform that allowed him to project the cello’s sound well. Rivinius was very sensitive to each lyrical nuance and slight rubato offered by the cellist. In the third-movement fugue, despite a pronounced increase in speed towards the end, there was an impressive togetherness and resourcefulness, the music retaining a largely stern countenance to contrast with the lighter relief in the second movement, essentially a classical minuet in which Moser was economical with vibrato.

In the right hands, Benjamin Britten’s Cello Sonata provides a dramatic experience, and the nervous energy displayed by Moser and Rivinius helped make theirs a compelling performance. Attention to expressive detail is important when performing Britten’s works for cello, the resultant sound often achieved through clever writing for the instrument that explores the limits of its many and varied technical capabilities. Moser was alive to all of these, his command of the sudden changes of mood and tempo impressive, maintaining continuity even when the music moves towards outright violence. Rivinius was similarly animated at these points, so the opening ‘Dialogo’ had a feisty give and take that ended with both protagonists on equal terms. The musicians put on a more unified front for a dazzling ‘Scherzo’, while the ‘Marcia’ fourth movement was a polar opposite, with an intentionally heavy, earthbound tone from the cellist. The finale also dazzled, completing a thoroughly convincing performance that had fire and brimstone in abundance, but also the underlying shyness that Britten introduces at unexpected moments.

Moser thoughtfully programmed an encore in memory of the recently departed Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Robin Gibb, an arrangement of Brahms’s song Sapphische Ode (Opus 94/4) that brought a tear to the eye in this heartfelt performance.

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