Beethoven on Hyperion

2008-10-30 / Daily Telegraph / Richard Wigmore

Classical CD of the week:

Beethoven: Cello Sonatas Op 5 Nos 1 & 2; Op 69
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello), Angela Hewitt (piano)
Hyperion CDA67633, £12.99

With his Op 5, Beethoven virtually invented the classical cello sonata. While the young keyboard lion ensured that there was plenty of scope for his own virtuosity, these are true democratic sonatas that brilliantly exploit the cello’s declamatory and lyrical powers. More than a decade later came the glorious A major Sonata Op 69, a less flamboyant yet far more subtle work, with an unforgettable opening for cello alone.

The closely matched duo of Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt do full justice to the A major Sonata’s agitated and cussed side, both in the first movement’s troubled development and in the fiercely articulated scherzo.

But from Müller-Schott’s mellow, nobly intoned opening, their performance is memorable above all for its lyrical tenderness and acute sensitivity to harmonic flux. They vindicate their expansive tempo in the finale’s initial adagio with their eloquent phrasing and delicacy of interplay, while in the following allegro they balance grace (taking to heart Beethoven’s many dolce markings) and quivering energy. Angela Hewitt’s glistening, finely articulated passagework is a delight, here and elsewhere.

In the two early sonatas the duo can sometimes underplay the music’s explosiveness and comic brio. In both finales, especially, I could have done with bolder, brasher dynamic contrasts, and fewer fastidiously tapered phrase endings from Hewitt. But if the impulsive sansculotte emerges slightly tamed – Mozartified, if you like – these are performances of great finesse and musical insight, whether in No 2’s hushed, brooding slow introduction, or the excursion to mysterious remote keys in the first-movement coda of No 1.

The players write about the sonatas in the booklet as persuasively as they perform them.