BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 102 and Op. 69 (Csaba Onczay/ Jeno Jando) (Naxos: 8.550478)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Sonatas for Cello and Piano
Sonata in C major, Op. 102, No.1
Sonata in D major, Op. 102, No.2
Sonata in A major, Op. 69
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the Rhineland city of Bonn in1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven, a singer in the musical establishment of theArchbishop of Cologne, and, more significantly, grandson of his namesake, formerKapellmeister to the same prince. Trained as a musician, he followed his father andgrandfather in the archiepiscopal service, and in 1787 was despatched to Vienna forlessons with Mozart. This first journey south came to nothing. Recalled to Bonn by news ofhis mother's illness, Beethoven remained there after her death, responsible for hisyounger brothers, as his father's dissolute way of life rendered him increasinglyincapable.
In 1792 Beethoven was allowed to travel once again to Vienna,this time for lessons with Haydn. In the imperial capital he benefited from introductionsto the discriminating leaders of society and among them found patrons of infinitepatience. Lessons with Haydn were unsatisfactory, but he had no complaints aboutinstruction from Albrechtsberger and in Italian word-setting from the old Court ComposerAntonio Salieri. At the same time he established himself as a remarkable keyboard-player,his improvisations as significant as his compositions.
The onset of deafness, the first signs of which had becomeapparent by 1800, led Beethoven into an increasingly isolated existence, hiseccentricities augmented by his situation. Remaining in Vienna, he became a dominantfigure in the music of his time, exploring new possibilities in a way that was to exercisethe strongest influence on his successors. He died in 1827.
Like Mozart before him, Beethoven was trained both as akeyboard-player and as a violinist, although in Vienna the second skill was neglected. Forcello and piano he wrote five sonatas and three sets of variations, the first compositionsin 1796 and the last in 1815, the year of the battle of Waterloo, the whole periodcoincident with Napoleon's rise and fall. These twenty years contain Beethoven'sdevelopment as a composer, from the first piano sonatas under the influence of Haydn tothe great Hammerklavier Sonata written for his royal patron, the Archduke Rudolph. Thecello sonatas too reflect changes in the composer's style, the increasing fondness forcounterpoint and greater freedom in contrapuntal effects, together with innovations, oftenstartling in classical terms, in both form and texture.
Beethoven's A major CelloSonata, Opus 69, was written in 1808 and dedicated to his intimate friend BaronIgnaz von Gleichenstein, an amateur cellist, who helped the composer in business matters,arranging his pension from a group of rich patrons in 1809 and joining with him in thecourtship of the sisters Anna and Therese Malfatti, the first of whom marriedGleichenstein in 1811, bringing his close friendship with Beethoven to an end. On thededication copy of the sonata Beethoven wrote the words Interlacrymas et luctus (Amid tears and sorrows), but there is little sign of thisin the music.
The first movement opens with a brief melody that employs thelowest register of the cello. The piano caps this, and roles are reversed, before theintroduction of a second subject shared between the two instruments. This material isdeveloped in a central section before the return of the first theme, played by the cello,with a running triplet piano accompaniment. The second movement is in the form of an Aminor scherzo, repeated to frame an A major Trio, with its opening cello double-stoppingand lower register piano accompanying figure. As in some of the piano sonatas, there is nofull slow movement, but a brief E major Adagio which leads directly to a final Allegrovivace, dominated by its first subject, announced by the cello, which later introduces thecontrasting second subject, although it is the first that forms the substance of thecentral development and the closing section of the sonata.
The last two cello sonatas of Beethoven belong in inspirationto his final creative period. Written in 1815, they were published in 1817 and finallyboth were dedicated to Countess Maria von Erdody, a woman whose patience Beethoven hadtried sorely enough, in spite of her efforts to help him. There had been an earlierdedication to the visiting English pianist and cellist Charles Neate, a pupil of JohnField, when it seemed possible there might be an English edition of the sonatas. The firstof the pair, Opus 102 No.1 in C major, was first performed in 1816 by the cellist ofPrince Razumovsky's quartet, Joseph Linke, and the pianist Czerny. It is in two similarparts, the second slow-fast sequence balancing the first. A tranquilly meditative openingAndante leads to an Allegro vivace, in the unexpected key of A minor. Here a fiercelyrhythmic statement in octaves is shared by cello and piano, in equal partnership. An Eminor second subject follows, before the brusque rhythm of the first subject re-appears toopen the brief central development section and the final recapitulation. A melancholy moodinforms the Adagio, which leads to a brief Andante return of the material with which thesonata had opened. This constitutes a bridge, in form and mood, to the final C majorAllegro vivace, a movement suddenly interrupted in its headlong course by a hushed E flatfrom the cello, to which the fifth is then added, before the piano comments with theopening figure of the principal theme, a figure that lends itself, as the movementprogresses, to contrapuntal treatment.
The Sonata in D major, Opus102 No.2, also written in August, 1815, opens in full vigour, with a rhythmicfigure for the piano and later entrusted to the cello, before its re-appearance as auseful element in the central development. The second movement is a D minor Adagio, itsthird and final section an elaborated version of the first, framing a serene D majorcentral section. The last movement is introduced hesitantly, a device that Beethoven useselsewhere. The cello then introduces a fugal subject, answered by the left hand of thepianist, followed by the third voice at a higher register of the keyboard. As in the othersonatas, the sound of the cello is never obscured by the piano texture, which is herecharacteristic of the final period of the composer's music, exploring the extreme registerof the newly developing instrument. The music again has elements of the unexpected,interrupted by the appearance of a brief second subject, accorded its own contrapuntaltreatment.
The Hungarian cellist Csaba Onczay, awarded the Liszt Prize andwinner of the 1973 Pablo Casals Competition in Budapest, followed by first prize in theRio de Janeiro Villa Lobos International Competition in 1976, was born in Budapest in1946. A professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, he was trained as a pupil ofAntal Friss at the Budapest Academy, where he won the Grand Prize on his graduation in1970. He went on to distinguish himself in Andre Navarra's master-class at Siena andcontinued his studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Csaba Onczay has enjoyeda busy career at home and abroad, throughout Europe and in the United States of America.
He has recorded for the Austrian and the French radio, as well as for Hilversum, RIAS andRAI, while his performances of the cello concertos of Lalo, Schumann and Lendvay have beenreleased on the Hungaroton label. Csaba Onczay plays a cello by Matteo Gofriller boughtfor him by the Hungarian Government.
Jeno Jando, piano and celesta<