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Chopin was described on that occasion in the Gazette musicale as 'the Ariel of pianists'. By now Chopin was physically a shadow of himself; but it was not just lack of strength that made him play forte passages piano or pianissimo. For him even the instrument of the 1840s had too much tone, and in his playing his aim was to avoid any hint of fracas pianistique. Franchomme had a Stradivari cello but held the bow above the frog, making for flexibility and subtlety of tone rather than robustness. I would not normally bother to mention such matters were it not that the players on this CD have signally ignored them. That they have magical sonorities at their command is clear from the central section of the Scherzo [listen -- track 2, 1:56-3:04]. The start of the slow movement has an equivalent tenderness and rapt poise [listen -- track 3, 0:02-0:49]. Alas that I cannot consider all the Sonata on the same level. Indeed some moments might well have caused Chopin to block his ears and flee across the Channel, if the 1848 revolution had not already done so.

That same revolution reached Dresden the following year. Wagner was on the barricades and an immediate candidate for exile. The King of Saxony had invoked Prussian troops, and Clara Schumann described some of the atrocities: the landlord of the Goldner Hirsch was made to watch 'while the soldiers shot twenty-six students, one after the other, that they had found there'. Schumann's only revolutionary contribution was the four so-called 'Barricade' Marches of Op 76. As tension mounted during April 1849, he wrote all the enchanting pieces here. The least attractive works are perhaps the Op 102 cello works; the rest are best quality Schumann, if conceived originally for horn and clarinet. Rasch und feurig is a fatal indication for these players, only exceeded perhaps by Rasch und mit Feuer. But again the first of the Phantasiestücke begins with an affectionate care that is truly Schumannesque [listen -- track 7, 0:02-1:01]. The same applies to the middle section of Rasch und mit Feuer [listen -- track 9, 1:10-2:06]. The moments of more obviously 21st-century music-making I leave to what may well be the ready enjoyment of more accommodating ears.

Copyright © 17 July 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Chopin: Cello Sonata; Schumann: Phantasiestücke etc

CD-1076 DDD Stereo 67'56" 2001 BIS Records AB

Torleif Thedéen, cello; Roland Pöntinen, piano

Chopin: Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano Op 65 (1845-46); Schumann: Adagio and Allegro in A flat Op 70 (1849); Schumann: Phantasiestücke Op 73 (1849); Schumann: Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op 102 (1849)



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