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Two Dramatic New Cello Releases

Cello-lovers everywhere rejoice! Here are two recent releases featuring cello music:

Beethoven Cello Sonatas

The title pretty much says it all. This release on the Hyperion label covers all five cello sonatas written by the beloved German composer (as well as some of his variations on works by Handel and Mozart, plus an arrangement of his Horn Sonata in F major for cello and piano). The cello sonatas of Beethoven span all three of his composition periods, making this survey album not only a collection of great pieces for cello, but also an interesting look  at the musical growth of the composer himself. Beethoven's sense of humor and drama remained constant throughout his career, and pianist Robert Levin and cellist Steven Isserlis truly let these qualities shine in their interpretation of each sonata. Levin and Isserlis play dynamically together, making for a truly captivating performance. Both use period instruments, which allows for closer adherence to the score and greater expressiveness within the framework of Beethoven's original intentions.

If you were looking to add quality recordings of the Beethoven cello sonatas to your music library in one fell swoop, this album is perfect.


Zuill Bailey-Britten

The cellistic drama continues on this Telarc release. Along with the North Carolina Symphony under Grant Llewellyn, Zuill Bailey performs the Cello Symphony of Benjamin Britten.  Originally written for the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the work is intensely dramatic, beginning with an ominous rumble in the tubas before the cello enters, moaning. The most transfixing moment of the piece is the cadenza leading from the third to fourth movement, which is nothing but the lament in the cello and Bailey's concentrated breathing.

Bailey also tackles the Cello Sonata in C major with pianist Natasha Paremski. This piece predates the Symphony and was the first that Britten wrote for Rostropovich. Like the Symphony, it is a virtuosic work which requires great technical precision from the performers as well as expressive playing. Paremski and Bailey meet both these demands, giving a tight yet moving performance.

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