Cello Classics is maturing into a very interesting label, not content to focus on the core repertoire but putting together excellent anthologies such as their Ysaye Connection, and now this – an examination of works for cello and fortepiano at the turn of the 18th century. Since Mozart’s published music for cello is scarce, the spotlight falls on his contemporaries, or more accurately those who fell under his influence.
It is generally accepted that the cello sonata as a form took hold with Beethoven’s early Op.5 works, but rather than another version of these we are offered sonatas by Helene Liebmann and Joseph Wolfl – hardly household names! – and shorter works by Mozart and Hummel.
Liebmann’s Grande Sonata is the most Mozartian work here, with a strong first theme countered by a softer second in the opening movement. In an age where women writing music were often treated as a trivial diversion, this work proves the detractors wrong, boosting its profile with a set of variations on Mozart’s famous La Ci Darem La Mano from Don Giovanni.
A short movement from the master himself follows, completed by Annette Isserlis. It’s a charming slow movement that could easily have been lifted from one of his violin sonatas, and begs the question as to how a Mozart cello sonata might have sounded.
There’s a sense of stylistic change in the following sonata by Wolfl, with a grand minor key opening hinting at a more expansive approach in the manner of Beethoven. Cellist Sebastian Comberti and fortepiano accompanist Maggie Cole launch themselves into this work with plenty of vigour, and whereas the sound of a fortepiano can often be jarring this is not the case with Cole’s restored 18th century instrument. Wolfl follows the grand opening with a shorter, graceful Andante before picking up a more romantic vein once more for the finale.
All of which leads us on to the concert bravura piece, Hummel’s Variations, which tax Comberti’s register – though never beyond his capabilities – and require extraordinary dexterity from Cole. As the variations unfold there are plenty of “must hear” moments, none more so than the tempestuous minor key variation, running from a hushed pianissimo to a vibrant forte.
The excellent booklet notes explain the planning behind this interesting program, and while most of the works featured may not become core repertoire pieces they are well worth investigating, particularly for the place they occupy in the history and development of the cello.