Jean-Guihen Queyras / Alexander Melnikov LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Complete Works for Violoncello & Piano

Two regular Harmonia Mundi artists here join forces for fascinating, polished performances of Beethoven’s works for cello and piano, embracing the five sonatas and the three sets of variations – on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” Op 66, on Handel’s “See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” WoO45 and on Mozart’s “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen” WoO46. Both Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov have made distinguished recordings on their own, but they have also collaborated before on chamber music by Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorák and Weber, Melnikov having also played the Beethoven violin sonatas with Isabelle Faust.
The fact of their having worked together previously shines through in the instant rapport of the opening work of the first disc, the “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” variations. The playing is as clear as a bell, spirited, poised and as bold as the music itself. Some might find that the bleached tone that Queyras adopts in some exposed moments is an obtrusive factor. On the other hand, there are those who will say that this sparse vibrato goes with the historical territory, so it all remains a matter of taste – a quality that Queyras and Melnikov have in abundance.
In the Handel variations, and in the more or less contemporaneous two sonatas of Op 5 that Beethoven dedicated to Frederick William II of Prussia in the late 1790s, Queyras seems not to go so determinedly for that pallid timbre, and the result is that the performances combine a spectrum of tonal warmth with an exhilarating thrust of momentum, unanimity in matters of phrasing, dynamic shading and expressive detail and, altogether, a compelling, energised interpretative plan.
The second disc contains the A major Sonata Op 69, the two sonatas of Op 102 together with the “Bei Männern” variations. Here the two instruments are even more emancipated than in the earlier Op 5 sonatas, independent of line and yet united in expressive purpose.
The playing here combines breadth and urgency with, for example, a touching tenderness in the simplicity of the slow introduction to the C major Sonata Op 102 No 1 of 1815, shattered by Queyras’s and Melnikov’s muscular drive in the ensuing Allegro.
It all adds up to a valuable set for admirers both of Queyras and Melnikov, and of Beethoven. (Geoffrey Norris)

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