Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello and Piano
Robin Michael, cello, Daniel Tong, fortepiano
Resonus Classics RES10254. 2CDs. 76’09+71’59
The key thing about this recording is that it uses period instruments – not always to be assumed in Beethoven recordings even in these more enlightened times. If your experience of the five cello Sonatas has so far been with a modern cello and piano, you are in for a treat, listening to the music as Beethoven might have heard it, at least in his head as far as the later Sonatas are concerned. The five sonatas range from Beethoven’s early years to the sad years of his hearing loss.
The use of a fortepiano (a copy by Paul McNulty of a c1805 Anton Walter) is perhaps the most aurally telling, the delicacy of the tone making every note clear, particularly in the bass register, and matching the tone of the cello perfectly. The cello (by Stephan von Baehr, after Matteo Goffriller 1695) has the same clarity of tone, without the booming resonance of later cellos. The result is a delight.
Of course, the instruments are just a part of the overall performance. Although Robin Michael and Daniel Tong both also play modern instruments, they have clearly fully absorbed the tonal and stylistic elements of period instruments and performance. They bring the music to life in a musically sensitive way.
The three sets of variations might not be to everybody’s taste, but they are a worthy inclusion on this double CD set, not least because they are often overlooked. Two are based on themes from the Magic Flute the third, rather curiously, is an interpretation of Handel’s “See the Conquering Hero Comes” from Judas Maccabaeus. Perhaps sensibly, they are interspersed between the first four Sonatas rather than grouped together so, without some button-pushing, you will hear them by default.
Further information, extracts, and a link to the booklet can be found here.