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Richard Harwood Sonatas Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

The strength of the partnership between Harwood and his pianist, Christoph Berner, is...

Charlotte Gardner 2007

Two great cello sonatas dominate this recording. Beethoven wrote his third Sonata for cello in 1807 as he composed the fifth symphony. Chopin’s only Cello Sonata would be the last sonata the composer would write. He died in 1849, a year after its premiere. Listening to such wide musical scope, one is left with the tantalising question of what Chopin might have done next, had he lived into his forties. Separating the sonatas are a beautifully-matched group of shorter pieces - Glazunov’s "Chant du Menestral", Rubinstein’s "Melodie in F", Offenbach’s "Les Larmes de Jacqueline", then the fireworks and pizzazz of 19th-century cello virtuoso David Popper’s "Elfantanz".

So, an enticing musical programme, but what of the cellist? Harwood, 27, has been labelled 'the greatest young cello talent since Jacqueline du Pre'. He made his Radio 3 debut aged just 13 with Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and was the first British cellist to be named a Bach Prize Winner at the International Johann Sebastian Bach competition. This is Harwood’s first CD for EMI, and it is very good. In the opening Beethoven sonata, he delivers the alternating phrases of fiery energy and melting sweetness with equal conviction. The strength of the partnership between Harwood and his pianist, Christoph Berner, is evident, and both men really know and understand their Beethoven. Harwood observes that an augmentation of a six-note motif in the Beethoven can be heard later in Chopin’s sonata. This knowledge not only makes the coupling of these two sonatas particularly appropriate, but obviously informs Harwood’s interpretation of them. Perhaps even better, it encourages the listener to hear the popular Chopin sonata with fresh ears. The shorter pieces are no less successful. The emotional lyricism of the Glazunov and Offenbach tugs at the heartstrings, and the Popper is a joy – fast, neat and playful, although perhaps slightly falling into the common trap of concentrating on the accuracy of the fiendishly fast passages at the expense of conjuring up the elves themselves.

With an EMI debut of this strength, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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