I make a point of not reviewing music much, but when the majority of reviews for an album seem largely hinged on the performer's physical appearance... I mean, come on guys, if you want to stare at pretty ladies... it seems you already know how to use the internet...
So for those of us who actually consider this album for its recording of the cello... Here we have two sonatas, one from the middle of, and one from the end of the Romantic period. A time characterised by a return to the art in art. A rebellion against the sciences, against mathematical perfection, against reason. A period of emotion. These are emotive pieces, these are pieces with spirit - and Clein clearly plays to the spirit in the pieces. I am less familiar with the Chopin piece, but its execution is very compelling. Chopin's only sonata for an instrument other than the piano, and while the piano is a key element, it's clearly a piece to show off the emotive nature of the cello. The performance feels effortless and breathy, and (I'll get to this in discussing Rachmaninov's sonata) while not a demonstration of absolute perfection in technical proficiency, it lends itself to hearing, to feeling, rather than to listening, and to judging.
Now the Rachmaninov piece, of course also a sonata for cello & piano (Rachmaninov reportedly not liking the title of cello sonata due to the importance of the piano), is one I'm more familiar with. I have owned or listened to many a recording of this piece, and I'm ready to put Clein's performance as my second favorite. My favorite is that of Chaushian and Sudbin, who manage to fill the piece with emotion, playfulness, and spirit, while still allowing it to be read as a technical challenge. There is a balance to be found - Ma's performance, while an extreme show of technical proficiency, lacks heart to me. It takes the performance too seriously, denies the scherzando in the allegro scherzando. It feels like science in an era of art. On the other face of the coin, Warner and Nuzova clearly seem to care about art as art, but the performance is a sleepy, sloppy mess which feels like it lacks emotion by way of forcing it. Clein & Owen fill their recording with emotion, whimsy, delight, and most importantly art - all while maintaining a level of technicality that allows you to get in and listen if you really want to. There is a time and a place for everything - the Chaushian recording is better in pretty much every way in my opinion, but it demands your ear. It is not a background listen, it puts itself at the foreground. Clein manages to settle back and relax a bit more, while not lulling the listener to sleep.
A few final thoughts - I feel like Clein outshines Owen by a margin, and the two do not necessarily seem to play off of each other as well as one would hope. This is another edge the Chaushian/Sudbin recording has - those two feel like they grew up playing together. Clein's charming liner notes express that she's been playing with Owen for ten years, but I don't think I would've guessed it from the recording. It's not a major detraction, and Owen is perfectly proficient in his own right, but at times there is a feeling of disconnect.
Finally, another reviewer mentioned the slightly bass-heavy recording, it is a rather dark recording indeed, and I'm not sure if it's a matter of mastering for the pop-loving masses, or a quirky venue choice, or what. I've heard far worse things, but it does feel a bit heavy at times.