Beethoven: Cello Sonatas Volume 1: Op.5 Nos. 1&2, Op.69

Daniel Müller-Schott; Angela Hewitt (Hyperion CDA67633)

29 November 2008 4 stars

Beethoven Cello SonatasDaniel Müller-Schott has been garnering rave reviews for several recordings already, which have appeared on various labels. This new disc, volume one in a projected set of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas, is the first result of a new partnership with Hyperion and he's joined by one of that label's most successful artists, Angela Hewitt. The results, especially in the early Op.5 sonatas, are delightful.

As the two artists remind us in their own liner note, these sonatas were originally designated as being for piano and cello, ostensibly in a move to give promote parity between the instruments. However, my one complaint in the early sonatas here is that while the piano inevitably gets more of the notes – all despatched with exquisite lightness of touch by Hewitt – there are times when Müller-Schott seems to be trying to make more of the cello part than is there, and his contributions occasionally sound a little pushed. This is exacerbated by the fact that Hewitt's Fazioli seems to my ears to be balanced a little far back.

However, having got that slight caveat out of the way, I have nothing but praise for these two musicians who seem, apart from anything else, to be enjoying themselves immensely and are adept at comminucating that sense of enjoyment to the listener. In the F major Sonata's Allegro they relish every twist and turn Beethoven takes them on; Hewitt is particularly excellent in the passage work and Müller-Schott finds a wide range of colours in his cello. The two of them produce chamber-music playing of the highest quality, carried through into an infectiously buoyant account of the Allegro vivace – listen out for the pin-point grace-notes, in particular.

We only get tantalising hints of lyricism in the first sonata – in a beautiful performance of the first movment's slow Adagio sostenuto introduction – but the extraordinary (much longer) slow introduction to the second sonata's first movement gives the listener a real treat. When the singing duet of cello and piano right hand starts, at around the 1'20, it is treated at first with touching tenderness but the artists are not afraid to give vent in the subsequent rhetorical outbursts. When the Allegro molto gets underway, it's tentative at first but there are finely etched contrasts between the Beethovenian Sturm und Drang and the more Haydnesque passages. Hewitt is again outstanding in tossing off the younger Beethoven's virtuosic passage work and the major-key Rondo skips along beautifully.

The great A major sonata is a very different work, but still one without a proper slow movement: the Adagio cantabile introduction to the finale is the nearest we get and as Hewitt and Müller-Schott put it in their note, 'we must be satisfied with a glimpse of heaven rather than a trip there'. What we do have though, is an excellent performance of a work which still has no shortage of lyricism yet one which, in the first movement again finds that elusive balance between the song-like opening and the unbuttoned rhetorical outbursts that follow. I felt the balance was not ideal in the development section – with Müller-Schott running the risk of drowning out Hewitt at one stage – but both performers listen to one another with sensitivity and produce some meltingly seductive results.

The Scherzo is rhythmically taut, the brief Adagio is indeed heavenly while the finale, mixing the exuberance of the early works with a dash of extra compositional maturity, brings the disc to an irresistibly enjoyable conclusion.

There's no shortage of great recordings of Beethoven's Cello Sonatas yet this disc – with Volume Two no doubt on its way – adds some more excellent performances of these fine works to the catalogue.

By Hugo Shirley