Historic indeed: the Op 5 pair (1796) appear to be the first cello sonatas with a writtenout piano part. But Beethoven limited himself to two movements, preceding each first movement with a slow introduction, that of the G minor Sonata virtually a slow movement in itself titled Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo.
Artur Schnabel is impressively serious here; András Schiff is conscious of an element of free-form in the music. Ian Fountain, hewing close to the marking, is both sustained and expressive, offering fantasy tied to profundity. A pianist of finely tuned artistic sensibilities, he leans into notes and plays into textures, his tonal palette encompassing a stark accent as easily as it does a graduated lyrical line. David Geringas is a master of line too, protean in his command of subtleties and nuances of expression. Both are superlative artists and in just accord, their interpretations wholly thought through and wholly communicated.
Turn to the best known work, Op 69. You’ll notice that Geringas phrases the first theme of the opening movement a little differently than expected—an example to show that all the performances are played from texts recently researched and edited by these musicians. You’ll also notice that Beethoven’s contrasts through modulations here are unmistakably delineated. It’s a pointer to how Fountain and Geringas heighten changes in character; and changes in tone quality too, as in the Andante introduction to Op 102 No 1, where Geringas adjusts his timbre to meet the requirement for a soft, tender, sweetly singing style.
These works are for piano and cello. The recorded balance reflects the priority and recorded sound, despite small changes in level here and there, doesn’t stand in the way of the concentrated listening that Fountain and Geringas induce in the listener. Consider for example the empyrean slow movement of the last sonata, marked Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto. It’s in two keys, and these musicians turn the chorale-like D minor first section into music of prayerful beauty. They’ll drag you into its ambience, as they will into the ambience of the whole programme. Succumb, and be enriched.