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Johannes Moser releases new CD of British cello sonatas

Hailed by Gramophone magazine as “one of the finest among the astonishing gallery of young virtuoso cellists,” Johannes Moser been recognized as “young, gifted, and intense…a major talent” (St. Louis Dispatch).  This week sees the release of the Tchaikovsky Competition-winner’s sixth album on the Hänssler Classics label.  A recital disc with Moser’s regular duo partner Paul Rivinius, the new issue features cello sonatas by three great British composers of the 20th-century, Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten, and Arnold Bax; these three works aren’t collected together on any other recording.  According to NDR Kultur (North German Broadcasting), “These British cello sonatas reveal Moser to be a versatile and very sensitive musician, who not only applies his gifts to the mainstream cello repertoire, but also introduces his listeners to lesser-known works.  These are exemplary performances that will please both the heart and mind.”  Two of Moser’s previous recordings with Rivinius – Brahms and His Contemporaries (Vol. I) and cello sonatas by Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, and Weinberg – have already won ECHO Klassik awards.

Britten’s Sonata for cello and piano in C major (1961) has featured regularly in the duo’s recital programs for some time.  As the cellist comments, “It seemed only logical finally to record it.”  Originally composed for Rostropovich, the sonata shares various “Russian” elements with works of Shostakovich, Britten’s friend.  In response to Moser’s new recording, NDR Kultur reports, “Britten’s sonata is the best known work on this CD; many performers have already recorded it, but not all have rendered it so delectable, so colorful, or so gripping.”

Britten studied with Frank Bridge from 1927, and today the older composer is perhaps best remembered for his student’s orchestral tribute, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.  At the time of the First World War, however, Bridge was “genuinely at the forefront of contemporary developments,” as Eckhardt van den Hoogen recalls in notes accompanying the new disc.  Dating from this time, Bridge’s Sonata for cello and piano in D minor (1913-17) is a two-movement work in which the composer “replaced traditional formal schemata with a narrative that appeared uncommonly free, but was de facto carefully rounded, in a manner that was sparing yet opulent, at once harmonious and ‘un-tonal’.”  The opening of the tragic second movement, often understood as revealing Bridge’s great despair at the futility of war, evokes the writing of Arnold Bax.

If Bridge’s sonata is forward-looking, Bax’s Legend-Sonata for cello and piano (1943), written near the end of his life, is more nostalgic, recalling one of the composer’s own orchestral works from the First World War years, The Garden of Fand.  The older piece has an evanescent theme; when a similar theme appears in Legend-Sonata, it becomes more ardent, reflecting Bax’s masterful cello writing. 

Johannes Moser plays Bridge, Britten, and Bax

Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Sonata for cello and piano in D minor, H.125 (1913-17)

Benjamin Britten (1913-76)
Sonata for cello and piano in C major, Op. 65 (1961)

Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Legend-Sonata for cello and piano (1943)

with Paul Rivinius, piano
Issued by Hänssler Classics (HÄN 93.257)

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© 21C Media Group, July 2010

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