Sonata in A (Franck)
Adagio and Allegro, opus 70 (Schumann)
Sonata in D, opus 78 (Brahms)
Channel Classics CCS 18698
Reviewed by Neville Cohn
Peter Wispelwey is one of the most adventurous of cellists. His recitals extend to just about all of the standard repertoire for the instrument – but he has made something of a specialty of playing transcriptions of music written for other media. His discography, for instance, includes a CD of Chopin waltzes for cello and piano – and, on another compact disc, transcriptions for cello and piano of Schubert’s three Sonatinas for violin and piano in a version for cello and piano.
One of his most recent CD releases is largely devoted to sonatas originally conceived for violin and piano but here presented in transcriptions for cello and piano. By any standards, this is a remarkable effort, not least for the contribution of Italian master pianist Paolo Giacometti.
For those for whom Cesar Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano means much (as it does to many), there might be, I dare say, some scepticism about its workability in a version for cello instead of the violin. Listen for yourselves. Franck’s wondrous creation loses little in transcription; it sounds as convincing in this version as the original. Certainly, Wispelwey and Giacometti play with such understanding of the genre, drawing always on a deep well of expressiveness, that one is drawn ineluctably into Franck’s idiosyncratic sound and mood world. It is not one whit less meaningful in its altered state.
From the opening moments during which the gently rocking cello line caresses the ear, Wispelwey and Giacometti give us some of the most sheerly beautiful playing you’re ever likely to encounter – and, in the grandest of passions, the duo sweeps through the Allegro. There’s more magic in the recitative cello line that introduces the third movement; it’s presented in the most expansive and leisurely way, the notes clothed in luxurious tone. And in the finale, the knotty problems of balance between cello and piano are resolved in a most satisfactory way so that each instrument is heard to best advantage, no mean feat of musicianship. And the turbulence that informs so much of the outer movements is conveyed as if to the manner born by Wispelwey and Giacometti.
Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, opus 70, originally conceived for horn and piano, loses nothing at all in transcription which says as much for the universality of Schumann’s ideas as the skill of the two musicians. It is a splendid achievement with phrasing as natural as breathing – and the allegro section throbbing with ardour. Bravo!
There’s more splendour in Brahms’ Sonata, opus 78. In much of the first movement, Wispelwey and Giacometti caress the phrase lines of the music like leisurely lovers. Wispelwey’s cello tone is splendidly rich in the double stopping of the closing measure.