This is a fine specimen of what duo-playing can and should be. My pleasure in this record is in no small measure down to my enthusiasm for these particular works, among the most attractive and significant products of early romanticism. Chopin's cello sonata seems to me an even better work than his piano sonatas. None other than Tovey gives it high marks for construction, even forgetting for once to include his near-invariable reference to Beethoven as the benchmark in all such matters. Chopin had written for the cello in his early years, and the opus 3 introduction-and-polonaise is included here, but the sonata has a sheer self-assurance about that sounds as if he had been composing for it all his life. There is even a full-scale slow movement - not long but not a miniature either - and that was something that Beethoven had avoided, no doubt because the cello of all instruments was most liable to show up the feeble sustaining-power of the pianos of his time. I recently heard a recital on a piano made for Clara Schumann by her father's firm, and matters had obviously improved since Beethoven's time - I was surprised by the volume and sustained tone it was capable of - but even Brahms was still cautious about slow movements in his cello sonatas. In the first there is none, in the second he has the cello playing largely pizzicato. Chopin adopts the simplest and most natural solution, a lyric melody on the cello with the piano mainly reduced to accompaniment. What I love about this record is the sheer full-bloodedness of the playing. The recorded balance is really very good, much better than on the notable disc of the Brahms sonatas that Rostropovich did with Serkin, and the sound of the two instruments has the quality that such playing deserves and demands. The trio of Chopin's scherzo is a humdinger of a cello tune, sung with heart, soul and passion by Rostropovich. Schumann's adagio section is likewise given the 'mit innigem Ausdruck' treatment, and when matters turn 'Rasch und feurig' the playing is simply thrilling. I'm not sure whether everyone is going to like Argerich's impetuosity here and there in the finale of the sonata. However that's who she is and that's what we ought to expect. Rostropovich follows her without a qualm, and I buy the whole effect unreservedly. I'm even an enthusiast for Chopin's early introduction/polonaise, a similar effort to the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise familiar from piano recitals. I looked for, and duly found, the predictable cliché 'a salon piece', but happily before I poked any derision at the expression I also noticed that it was Chopin who had used the phrase. These days Rostropovich is into conducting although I think he still plays. Argerich has announced that she will do no more solo work and focus instead on the chamber repertory. I see nothing in this situation that stops me from hoping to hear more from this magnificent partnership.
Chopin's cello sonata is an intriguing piece. Written at the end of the composer's short life, it displays a complete mastery of both the form and the character of the cello, despite Chopin having written almost exclusively for piano since his student days. The sonata has a sunset feel to it, and could easily become sentimental in less accomplished hands. But Argerich and Rostropovitch never let proceedings become maudlin, leaving the listener with a lingering wistfulness. The shorter Chopin piece and the Schuman are generous makeweights and worth listening to, but don't let them distract you from the ethereal beauty on offer in the sonata.
The Chopin Cello Sonata should actually come out like this, played by true virtuosi- like these two ones here, one of the greatest ones of the latter part of the last century, MSISTLAV ROSTROPOVICH and MARTHA ARGERICH. After all,it was the same way the work was conceived in the first place; Chopin of course was an amazing artist with his piano and August Franchomme, whom the sonata is dedicated, a great cello virtuoso. With him the composer gave the first performance in Paris a year before he died, in 1848 (inconceivably omitting the first movement).
August Franchomme was himself a composer and a long-time friend of Chopins, their friendsip going all the way back to early 1830s upon his arrival to Paris. He also assisted Chopin negotiating his publishers after his "kind-of-a friend-but-actually-more-of-a secretary" Julian Fontana had left Europe for United States-possibly due to his exhaustion caused by Chopins increasing requests and errands (once even asking him to send CAKE from Paris- to Nohant!!). Chopin and Franchomme collaborated in 1831-32 composing a joint composition, a kind of a free fantasia-potpourri on the themes of a Grand Opera by Giocamo Mayerbeer called "Robert le Diable". The work was published under the heading "Grand duo concertante". For Chopin it must have been an experience which gave him an intimate understanding of the possibilities of the cello, little similar to-for instance- the collaboration of the violinist Paul Kochanski and Karol Szymanowski some 80 years later (Kochanski for examble composed the cadenzas of both of the violin concertos by Szymanowski).
Prior to his collaboration with Franchomme in the Grand duo, Chopin had already composed for the cello; in fact one of his early associates with whom he used to make music was prince Antoine Radziwill, an amateur cellist- and a composer himself. Chopin dedicated a Trio from 1828 to the prince and they played it together. Later he wrote a polonaise for Prince Antoine and his piano-playing daughter (this polonaise, when published with an introduction added later, was nevertheless dedicated to Joseph Merk,a renowned Viennese cellist). This disc inholds also this polonaise. The inside introductory text btw incorrectly states the cello as an instrument Chopin was "unfamiliar with". He wasn't, since he HIMSELF had played it a little,(like the violin-see from Halina Goldberg: "Music in Chopins Warsaw" Oxford University Press 2008) and moreover had already composed the Trio for violin, cello and piano as well as few times for orchestra.
So Chopin used to have cellists around! Later he suggested at least to one of his pupils to study the cello in addition of the piano studies (another he insisted on taking singing lessons saying; "you have to sing before you can play"). And the fruit and the celebration of a life-long interest of the cello-as well as a celebration of a long friendship with one of the greatest virtuosos of that instrument- resulted to a work which became one of the Great Romantic Cello Sonatas; the SONATA FOR CELLO AND PIANO IN G-MINOR, OP. 65 - the last opus to be published during Chopins life-time.
The sound-engineering is suberb, actually the best I've heard in connection of this work. The cello is never in danger of being drowned by the piano, and the difference of the intruments compliment each other; the sonorous tenor register of the cello with long lined melodies combined with the bright finesse filigree figuration of the piano make a fine combination.
The performance of Rostropovich and Argerich has an air of live-performance in it. I is thoroughly lively and impassioned. Their intrepetation highlights life and passion in this work, contary to the usual autumn-like approach. Though some may miss the nostalgic feel of few other performances- such as the emotional and poignant Du Pre/Barenboim rendition- there is so much to admire here, the sheer instrumental supremasy of these two virtuosi for a start!