BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 5, No. 2; James Kreger, cello, Meg Bachman Vas, piano
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The sheer joy of the final bars of the first movement is remarkable
Caught live in 1979 (audio only), James Kreger here teams up with Meg Bachman Vas, a pianist of the utmost sensitivity, a sensitivity put to fine use in the Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo opening of the first movement. Both players seek to capture the drama in this section. Perhaps the piano is slightly less well caught than on either the Brahms or the Chopin videos from Kreger also reviewed in this issue, but the cello sound is perfectly there, enabling the listener to enjoy Kreger’s exemplary control (not a trace of bow shake). The main body of the movement, an Allegro, is remarkably varied, full of air, with accents making their point but never stabbed. Most delicious, perhaps, is Kreger’s way with the main theme, liquid in legato and dripping with character. The sheer joy of the final bars of the first movement is remarkable.
The companion movement, a rondo, captures Beethoven’s sense of kittenish play (albeit a kitten with an excessive sugar intake, perhaps; Beethoven’s play can be quite rough). The piano seems rather distanced in the sound picture, but the sense of fun is there without doubt, as is the sense of true chamber music partnership.
Again, the catalog furnishes treasurable accounts of this piece aplenty (du Pré/Barenboim on EMI being right up there; Harrell and Ashkenazy on Decca have their adherents, justifiably so, too, and let’s not forget that astonishing Philips Rostropovich/Richter account). And again, Kreger offers a refreshing alternative that loses not one bit of face in exalted company. Plus, he costs not a bean. —Colin Clarke
Outstanding playing on every level here!
The opportunity to hear and comment on this splendid performance gave me the chance to hear James Kreger perform a work in which I had not previously experienced his art. (I have many of his recordings, including some private discs.) Further, it was my introduction to pianist Meg Bachman Vas, a fine performer and collaborator who (I am sure James will not mind my saying) deserves as much praise as he for their efforts here.
“Effort” is the wrong term here. There is no sign of effort or strain, but rather music-making of expressivity and joy. In sound quite exceptional for a YouTube transmission, the artists offer Beethoven that is both light-hearted (in places) and sophisticated throughout. This sonata can be approached with considerable variety, particularly in the opening pages. Some performers give those great gravitas, the more to contrast them with the later portion of the first movement. The excellent Duo Leonore (see my 2015 Want List and prior review) takes a spacious approach and makes the work quite large. The first recording I ever owned (and still have), by Antonio Janigro and Carlo Zecchi, took the opening and indeed the entire work more lightly. Fournier and Schnabel don’t make it too grand, either.
Kreger and Bachman, abetted (I note again) by excellent sonics that feature a splendid balance of the two instruments, take a middle ground. The opening measures are thoughtful but do not lag, and the movement develops in a buoyant fashion. The finale similarly trips along; the piano takes off and the cello romps. I realize this cellist is far too dignified a person ever to “romp,” but I wish to characterize the high spirits of the performance as well as the exceptionally fine technical execution. Outstanding playing on every level here! I wonder how I could have missed this among Kreger’s numerous recorded performances, and am happy to have heard it now. You should do so as well. To quote colleague Jerry Dubins (referring to James’s Brahms): It’s free! But truly, such music-making as this is beyond price. To quote myself, as I said viz the Brahms: “As good as the best….” What more can I say? —James Forrest
to sum up the artists’ effort with one word, I’d call it exhilarating
For the Beethoven Sonata, James Kreger is joined by pianist Meg Bachman Vas, who, as a recital accompanist, has teamed up with famous artists such as Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell, Mark Kaplan, and Mildred Miller, among many others.
As James notes in our interview, Beethoven approaches the cello in a way that’s different from that of his predecessors, who, up to that point, pretty much regarded its function as that of a continuo or bass-reinforcing instrument. Beethoven wrote for the cello early and from the beginning saw its potential as an expressive melody instrument and one that was perfectly capable of entering into an equal dialog with the piano. His two op. 5 Sonatas are surprisingly advanced works in terms of content, style, technique, and form, when one considers the composer’s age (26) when he wrote them in 1796 and, more significantly, that they are his first composed and published duo-instrument sonatas. Yes, they were works of opportunity—namely his visit to the cello-playing Prussian monarch in Berlin; but still, it has always seemed daring to me that Beethoven would have tackled the cello for his first duo sonatas before the violin, which was so much more common at the time and easier to write for in combination with piano.
James Kreger’s performance of the G-Minor Sonata is tonally plangent in the first movement and filled with a feeling of joyous exuberance in the score’s Rondo finale. The balance between cello and piano is ideal in this superb-sounding YouTube audio streaming clip. The technical challenges are met without strain, as Kreger and Vas bring out Beethoven’s bantering badinage and buffoonery in the sonata’s concluding movement. If I had to sum up the artists’ effort with one word, I’d call it exhilarating. —Jerry Dubins