Staying within the realm of more "familiar" composers/repertoire, this is a fantastic disc with some of the finest cello and piano literature, complimented by some of the finest playing by cellist and pianist alike. I know these pieces well, however it's the Britten Cello Sonata that I have somehow managed to listen to the least over the years. No reason, just unfortunate for me. It is Britten's Sonata in C that I enjoy the most on this recording, indeed I think it is here revealed at one of the greatest works of the 20th century for cello and piano.
Cellist Gautier Capuçon has stated that he and pianist Frank Braley wanted to pay tribute to two twentieth-century legends, Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten. Thus, they recorded the same works their illustrious predecessors put down for Decca in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Next to Capuçon and Braley, Rostropovich and Britten sound rather heavy and deliberate. It is not just a matter of tempos, (though the latter team are nearly two minutes slower in the first movement) but of the entire approach to the music.
The notes mention that "The arpeggione, a cross between the guitar, cello and bass viol, owes its moment of glory to Franz Schubert. Something of a hybrid, this fretted six-stringed instrument, devised by the Viennese instrument maker Johann Georg Stauffer in 1823, was held between the knees like the viola da gamba. It has sometimes been described as a 'bowed guitar', 'guitar d-amore' or 'guitar cello', but the name "arpeggione" had its origins in the ease with which the instrument could be tuned (E, A, D, G, B, E, like the guitar), and played in arpeggios".
Only, after all that, we don't get the arpeggione on this disc. Gautier Capuçon plays Schubert's Sonata in "A major" (pretty sure it's actually A Minor) for Arpeggione and piano, D.821 (the piece usually referred to simply as the "Arpeggione", after the featured instrument) on the cello, since the original arpeggione had a heyday of only about ten years; with the exception of a very few recordings using reconstructed arpeggiones, musicians have performed the music on the cello since the mid nineteenth century. Pianist Frank Braley accompanies Capuçon on a modern Steinway D-274 piano, and together the musicians make the piece come to life in innocent splendor, regardless of the instruments used. The whole piece is wonderfully melodic, and receives the most lyrical interpretation, while still keeping the music lively and Romantic. By turns the opening movement can be poetic, energetic, introspective, wistful, sentimental, vigorous, and beautiful.
The Debussy Cello Sonata is one of three chamber sonatas from late in the composer's life. It packs a lot of material in its short duration and is both whimsical and enigmatic. Debussy initially considered calling it "Pierrot angry with the moon", owing to his preoccupation with the figures of the harlequinade. It is an extremely fine work, along with the Violin Sonata and the sublime Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp that comprise the other two sonatas of this period.
Schumann's Pieces in Folk Style are from the composer's productive year of 1849 before his mental health completely deteriorated and his attempt at suicide. From the mood of these pieces (humorous, Gypsy-like tunes to innocent lullabies) with their freshness and originality one would not guess that Schumann was in such a fragile state. These miniatures are for the most part lighthearted with the first piece marked "with humour", followed by a lullaby, a ballad, a march, and a zesty finale.
This Erato gemstone concludes with the Cello Sonata Benjamin Britten composed for Rostropovich, for whom he also wrote his three Cello Suites and Cello Symphony. While the Rostropovich/Britten recording retains its authoritativeness, there have been more recent versions that have challenged but not surpassed them. Such is the recording under review here. In the first movement Rostropovich/Britten are a bit faster and more lyrical, while Capuçon/Braley are more assertive-even aggressive at times. Rostropovich's playing in the second movement, Scherzo-Pizzicato, is guitar-like, while Capuçon's pizzicato is a bit reminiscent of Bartók in the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Somehow I cannot get past the Scherzo-Pizzicato movement without hitting repeat a few times! Capuçon/Braley are heavier and darker in the third movement Elegia with their tread being very Slavic and reminding of Shostakovich. By contrast Rostropovich/Britten are warmer with the piano less prominent, but with exceptionally sensitive playing by both artists. The same is true for the fourth movement march that is spiky and eerie with excellent dialogue between Rostropovich and Britten. Capuçon/Braley are not as incisive and a bit heavier, but also excellent as a team. Both teams contribute a very exciting finale and neither disappoints in any way. I will be listening to this glorious Sonata with much more frequency now..