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CHOPIN, Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, op. 65
The raison d'etre of this Classical Briefing, as also of my review of July 10 this year, is once again not so much the works themselves as the instrument, my favourite cello, which they feature. Indeed, now I come to think of it, which Romantic and modern composer who, having written for the main instruments, the piano and violin, has not then, often in his maturity, composed important works for the cello?
I can think offhand of 14 composers from Beethoven to Britten who have written admirably for that rich, dark sounding instrument.
A second reason for choosing these works, I must admit, is again to advertise the superb Maria Kliegel performing them on the Naxos label, whose technique and expression are second to none that I have so far heard in them.
The more one hears Chopin's final compositions the more one surely realises that, far from their coming at the end of a third and final creative phase, they are at the beginning of it, having already moved away from the balance between symphonic structure and luscious lyricism in his best known works to discover tougher, more experimental textures.
The Cello Sonata of 1845/6, three years before his death, if it lacks the Big Tunes of the B minor Sonata and the A flat major Polonaise- fantasie of the same period, has their new attention to symphonic material. Not that it isn't also melodious.
Indeed, it is very easy on the ear in this respect. But there is throughout an impressive attention paid to the give and take between the cello and the piano, in the first movement particularly their sharing and developing in their own characteristic way the same musical cells which make up the themes. In the other movements too, the three-part Scherzo, the songlike Largo, and the tarantella-based Finale, we are conscious throughout of two instruments equally developing symphonic rather than merely tuneful themes. The final result is a stimulating if uncharacteristic Chopin work.
The other two, both early, cello and piano works, the Polonaise brillante and Grand Duo Concertant are only of passing interest, flashy, occasional pieces, but the transcriptions of two etudes, a nocturne, and a waltz are so well done that you wouldn't guess they weren't composed in the first place for cello and piano. And, to be sure, they all have lovely melodies.
None of the works on the second disc was composed specifically for the cello. Schumann's Fantasiestucke were originally for clarinet and piano, with the option of violin or cello, his Folk-Song Pieces for violin or cello and piano, and his Adagio and Allegro for French horn, violin, or cello and piano. Maria Kliegel makes them sound as if they were created solely for her instrument.
These pieces, 10 in all, composed in 1849, Schumann's most creatively fertile after his marriage year 1840-41, are fully the equal of his better known piano works and demonstrate convincingly why it was he, and not the orchestral, operatic Berlioz, sometimes too polite Mendelssohn, or flashy Liszt, who was revered by the second generation of Romantics as the archetypal Romantic, their idol.
Here is music Romantic in spirit independent of programme associations, harking back to a composer Schumann was one of the first to appreciate and champion, Schubert.
Fittingly, the final work on the disc is Schubert's Sonata in A minor, D, 821, composed for the arpeggione, a sort of bowed guitar of six strings invented in 1823 but never popular. Today the sonata is played on the cello or viola.
Composed in 1824 it is a work of Schubert's maturity, three gracious melodious movements with memorable singing themes in each, which all listeners should appreciate when extensively repeated not so much for structural as for aesthetic reasons, the sheer joy of listening to beautiful melodies for as long as possible.
For me it is one of his many works which rank Schubert as a composer after Bach, Handel, and Mozart, but before Beethoven. At which point, since most readers will now be ready to tear this review to shreds, I desist. * The writer can be contacted at nstent@nstp.com.my

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