Brahms’s Sonata for Piano and Cello No.2 in F Major must surely feature in the top ten most played pieces of chamber music of all time. I thought I had witnessed every interpretation under the sun of this romantic masterpiece – and then comes John-Henry Crawford’s version which totally disarmed me and made me fall in love with Brahms’s sonata all over again.
Crawford’s unique sound has to be partly attributable to the magnificent 200-year-old cello he has acquired through his grandfather, who smuggled it out of Austria in the late 1930s. Together with a 18th century French bow, Crawford draws out thrilling new textures from a well-known sonata.
And let us not forget pianist, Victor Santiago Asuncion, who certainly has his work cut out for him in the Brahms where the two instruments are in perpetual conversation. The entire sonata mimics two people getting together after a relationship breakdown and examining what went wrong, what was good, and then arguing about it all over again! Both musicians bring out the excitement of key moments in the music, especially in the third movement, the Allegro passionate. The youthful, adventurous, exploratory style of their play, is a complete delight.
Hungarian composer György Ligeti is sandwiched between the Brahms and Shostakovich. Sonata for Solo Cello was conceived at two stages in Ligeti’s life, the first in 1948, when he composed his intense love-sick piece, yearning for a fellow female colleague. The second movement, composed much later (1953) Capriccio, was intended for a cellist to display her virtuosity. It is an unusual pairing, but it works.
If you find enjoy the Brahms on this album, you’ll lap up Shostakovich’s heart-breaking Sonata for Cello and Piano in D-minor.
It is not all heartbreak of course- there are many spirited passages – like the second and final movement, but it is the Largo which will leave you emotionally raw. The Largo’s poignant, searching, lost tone relates to the composer’s real-life isolation – the isolation he felt when he divorced his wife and took up with a young translator. Crawford’s sensitive play is almost too beautiful to bear. Thank goodness for the final rousing dance-like movement, where one senses the lover has come out the other side.
Crawford has been showered with rewards and has a huge following. 55,000 followers I read in the sleeve notes. By the time I checked his Instagram account, his fan base had risen to 56.1 k! That’s a lot of groupies and for good reason though. Highly recommended for the exceptional play and gorgeous musical programme.
Dialogo is out on Orchid Classics https://orchid-music.lnk.to/Dialogo