Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Klavierstucke

Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano & Klavierstucke
Kate Bennett Wadsworth, Yi-heng Yang
Deux-Elles DXL1181. 67′


Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello, Op. 38
Klavierstücke, Op. 76: 4-8
Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello, Op. 99

This 2018 recording, which I somehow didn’t get round to reviewing at the time, offers a refreshing insight into cello and piano performance practice during Brahm’s time, the result of detailed research by cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth and pianist Yi-heng Yang. In this, their debut recording, a rethinking of the performing tradition of the past century aims to bring back the “freshness and vitality that they had when they were new”.

The cello research is based on Kate Bennett Wadsworth’s PhD and her work on the 2015 Bärenreiter edition of Brahm’s cello Sonatas. This involved looking at early editions, with their distinctive fingerings and bowings, as well as researching contemporary accounts of performance factors. There were also able to explore recordings of performances by musicians far closer to the Brahms circle than we are today. One key evaluation from this was the use of a flexible sense of timing “that allowed performers to parse and shape their music at every level”. Written accounts of Brahms’ own playing suggest that his manner of playing was “free, very elastic and expansive”.

The piano chosen is an 1875 Streicher, the same model as the one donated to Brahms in 1868. Yi-heng Yang adopts the practice of spreading chords, in the manner of harpsichord playing, adding an extra dimension to the timbre – a technique that involved unlearning present-day performance practice. The five extracts from the 1879 solo Klavierstücke, variously titled Intermezzo or Capriccio, demonstrate this technique well.

The result of this carefully researched approach to music-making goes well beyond the merely academic. The result is a compelling interpretation of music that will be known to many, but probably not sounding like this.

Kate Bennett Wadsworth is a cellist and gambist devoted to the historical performance of music from all periods, with a special research interest in 19th-century performing practice. Yi-heng Yang is on the piano faculty at The Juilliard School and teaches fortepiano and Piano Literature at the Mannes School of Music.