BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 5 (Csaba Onczay/ Ibolya Toth/ Jeno Jando) (Naxos: 8.550479)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Cello Sonatas Op.
Handel and Mozart Variations
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.
In 1796 Beethoven set out on a concert tour, following a routesimilar to that taken by Mozart and Prince Karl Lichnowsky in 1789, passing throughPrague, Dresden and Leipzig, on the way to Berlin. Mozart had derived little materialprofit from his journey, although his Prussian quartets were composed on his return withthe cello-playing heir to Frederick the Great, King Frederick William II, in mind. He hadfound little good to say about the Potsdam musical establishment. The French cellist andteacher of the king, Jean Pierre Duport, he had met in Paris in 1778, and described him ina letter to his father as very conceited. He found the Prussian court musicalestablishment not beyond criticism, if we accept the account of the matter recalled by hisfuture brother-in-law. Duport had by this time been joined by his younger brother, also acellist, and from 1787 was director of the court musical establishment.
Beethoven was pleased by his reception at Potsdam and seems notto have entertained the reservations Mozart had expressed. He played for the king his twonew cello sonatas, probably written for Duport, who performed them with the composer, andwas rewarded with a golden snuff-box filled with louis d'or, a present of which heremained proud. The sonatas were dedicated to King Frederick William. The TwelveVariations on a theme from Handel's oratorio JudasMaccabaeus, WoO 45, belong to the same year, and the set was published in 1797with a dedication to Princess Christiane von Lichnowsky, wife of Mozart's formertravelling companion. The Twelve Variations on Mozart's popular Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, from Die Zauberflote, were also written in 1796 andpublished in Vienna in 1798. The third set of variations for cello and piano, again basedon a melody from Die Zauberflote, is thegroup of seven variations on Bei Mannern, welche Liebefuhlen, written in 1801, and published the following year with a dedication toCountess von Browne.
The first of the two Opus 5 sonatas, the Sonata in F major,extends traditional practice, to the surprise of some of Beethoven's less sophisticatedcontemporaries, in allowing a balanced share of the music to both cello and piano. Thecello had, in any case, tended to occupy a subsidiary role in the sonata repertoire, itsrange presenting certain technical difficulties, admirably solved by Beethoven, at leastin the sonatas and variations. The sonata opens with a slow introductory passage of 34bars, leading to an Allegro of prodigal melodic invention. The opening theme is givenfirst to the piano, echoed by the cello, followed by a second subject moving through newkeys, before the piano is permitted a passage of concertante display. The centraldevelopment opens with the first subject now in A major and then in D minor, before otherharmonic possibilities are explored, followed by the customary return of the openingmaterial. A second inversion of the tonic chord heralds a cadenza, opening contrapuntallyand containing a sudden Adagio, succeeded by a rapid and brief excursion into tripletrhythms, before the final appearance of the principal theme. The cello opens the secondmovement, closely followed in canonic imitation by the piano, with suggestions of a verydifferent key. Here again the concertante element prevails, with an infectiously rhythmicB flat minor central episode, with the plucked notes of the cello providing anaccompaniment, when the piano has the theme. Momentary relaxation in mood gives way to aburst of final brilliance, firmly establishing the tonic chord.
The Sonata in G minor, Op.
5, No.2, again has only two movements. An expressive and more extended Adagiois imbued with drama, alternating with moments of lyricism. There is a sudden silencebefore the lively Allegro, in which the two instruments share the opening theme, with thecello taking initial charge of the second element. The central development opens, as theAllegro had at first seemed to, in C minor, and is followed by the expectedrecapitulation, including the dramatic return of the closing section, followed by a codaof more varied mood. The final rondo is started by the piano, with the cello offering itsown version of the first episode, before being permitted a full share of the principaltheme. The heart of the movement is in the key of C major, but the tonic major is finallyre-established in music of continued concertante brilliance.
Beethoven was a master of improvisation, an art that was anecessary skill in a concert pianist, since extemporised variations were a common part ofpublic performance. His first written variations for piano were written when he was twelveand his last in 1823. The first group of variations for cello and piano uses the wellknown See here the conqu'ring hero comes, from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Alter the theme itself, the pianostarts a first variation, followed by cello embroidery of the melody. Moods vary as thepossibilities of the theme are investigated, leading, in customary variation style, to anAdagio and a final Rondo.
The first set of Magic Flute variations of 1796, based on Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, again transforms theoriginal melody of Papageno into music that is characteristic in every way of Beethoven,sometimes stating the melody in grandiose terms, sometimes with tense rhythmic energy andsometimes in the capricious style of a scherzo. Once again the variations include anAdagio and a final Rondo.
The second group of Mozart variations for cello and piano,based on Pamina's aria Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen,a contemporary show-stopper in Vienna, allows a greater degree of equality between the twoinstruments than in the earlier sets, sharing the burden and including a variation withall the marks of a scherzo and a succeeding one in soberer mood.
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