June 2005

Beethoven - The Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Cello
Alfred Brendel, piano; Adrian Brendel, cello
Philips B0003958-02
Released: 2005
Format: CD

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

While we use convenient shorthand in referring to Beethoven’s "cello sonatas," these five works (and the three sets of variations for the same two instruments) are actually designated "for piano with violoncello accompaniment." We are accustomed to their being recorded by duos in which the pianists are as celebrated as the cellists -- Serkin and Casals, Schnabel (also Kempff or Gulda) and Fournier, Richter and Rostropovich, Argerich and Maisky.

In this new Philips recording, the cellist is by far the lesser-known member of the duo -- but what an effective advocate in any event! Adrian Brendel looks to be about 30 in the cover picture taken with his famous father, though there is not a word about him in the documentation. He not only plays with a warm, inviting tone and a confident understanding of the material, but interacts with both his performing partner and the music itself with an intensity that is never exaggerated and a good humor that is always tasteful. Here is a genuine "dialogue," the intimate give-and-take that chamber music is all about, on quite an exceptional level.

As Philips has balanced the two instruments ideally, the two-CD set is irresistible, rendering the idea of comparative evaluation quite beside the point.