Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Album Review: Chopin, Mendelssohn: Cello Sonatas

Cellist Pieter Wispelwey and pianist Paolo Giacometti partner in Felix Mendelssohn’s effervescent Cello Sonata No. 2 and Frédéric Chopin’s rarely heard Cello Sonata in G minor. The album is rounded out with Mendelssohn’s Song without Words in D, and three of Chopin’s Op. 64 waltzes arranged for cello and piano by legendary 19th century Russian cellist Karl Davydov.
The Mendelssohn Sonata is a terrific adrenalin blast. The rollicking opening Allegro fairly roars out of the gate with the two performers putting their feet on the gas pedal without compromising tonal quality or precision. The Allegretto scherzando (another of Mendelssohn’s great quicksilver scherzi) is nimbly athletic with Wispelwey snapping off crisp pizzicato notes with great alacrity. The gorgeous Adagio features fluid arpeggiated chords from Giacometti that have a chorale-like feel, and when Wispelwey joins him in the song the result is thrilling. As energetic as the opening movement was, the Molto allegro finale trumps it for pure propulsion. This is a brilliant performance from start to finish.

Chopin’s sonata was one of his last works and it offers a glimpse of the composer working outside his familiar solo piano niche. I don’t know why this work isn’t performed more often because it’s passionate, highly melodic and brimming with invention. As you might not have expected, the sonata is anything but a piano sonata with cello accompaniment. The sonata offers opportunities for both performers and Wispelwey and Giacometti give an inspired performance.  Particularly noteworthy is the third movement Largo, a show-stopper that soars with its beautiful cantabile line. The Davydov waltz arrangements are delightful encores that display the virtuosity of both performers, especially the famous “Minute” waltz.
I think Wispelwey possesses the most gorgeous tone of any cellist currently performing and Giacometti is a master of fine touch and nuanced shading, individually they are superb, but together they are unbeatable.

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