Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano = Pierre Fournier, cello/ Friedrich Gulda, piano – Regis (2 CDs)

Gallic elegance and Viennese facility combine in the persons of Pierre Fournier and Friedrich Gulda to deliver a consistently satisfying traversal of the Beethoven cello sonata oeuvre.

Published on September 20, 2012

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano = Pierre Fournier, cello/ Friedrich Gulda, piano – Regis (2 CDs)

BEETHOVEN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano = Sonata in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1; Sonata in G Minor, Op. 5, No. 2; Sonata in A Major, Op. 69; Sonata in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1; Sonata in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2; Variations on “Ein Maedchen uder Weibchen,” Op. 66; Variations on “Bei Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen,” WoO 46; Variations on “See the conquering hero comes,” WoO 45 – Pierre Fournier, cello/ Friedrich Gulda, piano – Regis RRC2092 (2 CDs) 69:43; 68:25 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Originally produced in 1960 for DGG, these collaborations feature two outstanding stylists, master cellist Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) and intellectually audacious pianist Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000). Fournier’s suave, lyric style often stands in elegant contrast to the jabbing, edgy playing Gulda brings to the keyboard, but together their sound makes Beethoven exciting at every measure. Fournier as a younger man had inscribed the cello sonatas with Artur Schnabel; but the sound of 1960 surpasses that of the historic performance, and the incisive, driven character of the Op. 5 F Major Sonata, its alternately singing and brilliant filigree, proves an undeniably fertile version of the 1796 opus, which set a new standard in the cello sonata medium. The G Minor Sonata seems to point emotionally to the Pathetique Piano Sonata, Op. 13, at least in its Adagio sostenuto ed espessivo opening. The nobility of line that the principals achieve commands our repeated attention. When the Allegro molto ensues, the passionate drive of the collaborative momentum quite carries us away in a flutter of string song and florid keyboard ornaments.  The respective Rondo for each of the Op. 5 works proceeds with that happy combination of rhythmic zest and sparkling tonal security that makes plastic sense of Beethoven’s virtuosity, conceived in his own time for Jean-Louis Duport and King Friedrich II of Prussia.

The centerpiece of the Beethoven cello sonatas, literally and figuratively, remains the 1808 gem, the Sonata in A Major.  Fournier sets the singing tone for the Allegro ma non troppo with his resounding solo entry, and Gulda takes up the pearls of the tempestuous keyboard work. The expansive symphonic equality of parts invests the duo with a marvelous body of complementary effects, dramatic and serene at once. Masterpieces of contrapuntal and motivic compression, the two 1814 sonata of Op. 102  testify to Beethoven’s late style, which emerged in full form in his Op. 95 “Serioso” String Quartet.  The D Major Sonata proffers a fully-formed Adagio slow movement that both expands the baroque concept of the Op. 102 opera and provides the principals an emotional vehicle of singular intensity.

Fournier and Gulda indulge their temperaments for bravura colors in the three sets of variations that Beethoven extrapolated from Mozart and Handel originals. We might venture that both principals enjoyed a playful degree of fun in the realization of these ingeniously accomplished improvisations on noted arias. Three themes and thirty-one variations having been blithely executed in all their dancing and meditative colors, the cumulative effect has been to applaud without reservation the striking force of the musical sympathy these two splendid artists have wrought.

—Gary Lemco




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