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Classical Corner, July 2007
Beethoven: Complete Music for Cello and Piano: Five Sonatas and Three Sets of Variations
Yehuda Hanani, cello; Walter Ponce, piano
(Close Encounters with Music CEWM/JDT3300)

Many South Floridians will remember the Israeli cellist Yehuda Hanani from the “Close Encounters with Music” series he presented locally for many years. (Hanani still performs “Close Encounters” concerts in Scottsdale, Arizona and the Berkshires of Northern Massachusetts.) Hanani is joined by renowned pianist and pedagogue Walter Ponce in an exciting overview of Beethoven’s Music for Cello and Piano on the Close Encounters label (www.cewm.org). Like his string quartets, Beethoven’s five cello sonatas trace this titanic master’s evolution from the influence of Haydn and Mozart to a bold, path breaking musical language that remains bracingly modern. These masterpieces literally reinvented the instrumental sonata form, making the piano a full partner rather than a mere accompanist. Hanani’s rich, deep well of burnished tone embraces these remarkable scores. His patrician musicianship, heartfelt fervor, and intense expressivity of utterance produce performances that are truly remarkable. Ponce’s keyboard agility, interpretive authority, and finely honed sense of chamber music collaboration are a joy to hear. In addition, the two disc set features Beethoven’s charming sets of variations on themes from Handel’s “Judas Maccabaus” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” making this recording a real winner! Hanani and Ponce will play a recital on December 9, 2007 for Sunday Afternoons of Music at UM Gusman Concert Hall.

Lawrence Budmen


Strings, June/July 2007
Beethoven: Complete Music for Cello and Piano:
Five Sonatas and Three Sets of Variations
Yehuda Hanani, cello; Walter Ponce, piano
(Close Encounters with Music CEWM/JDT3300)

If Beethoven's reputation as an innovator needs any justification, it can be found in his cello sonatas: Opus 5, Nos. 1 & 2 (1796); Opus 102, Nos. 1 & 2 (1815); and the most familiar, Opus 69 (1807-08). These works are performed here with great feeling by internationally acclaimed pianist Walter Ponce and Israeli-born cellist Yehuda Hanani, who has collaborated with the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Leon Fleisher, as well as members of the Emerson, Vermeer, Juilliard, and Cleveland quartets, among others.

These pieces represent not only a new instrumental genre, but also a departure from the traditional sonata structure. All except Opus 69 have only two movements; all contain slow sections of extraordinary beauty and expressive depth which function as introductions to the main fast movements. Only the last sonata has a "real" slow movement, and it, too, leads into the finale fugato.

In Opus 102, No. 1, the introduction recurs, elaborated, like a memory, to bridge the slow and fast parts of the second movement. Together, the sonatas form an arch, with Opus 69, beloved for its warm, melting lyricism, acting as structural and emotional center. The first pair belongs to Beethoven's carefree, exuberant youth, though the first movement of the second sonata foreshadows the dramatic tension of his later works. The second pair is true late Beethoven, encompassing a wealth of emotions from humor to sublime serenity. The Variations— two sets on themes by Mozart, one by Handel—date from 1796 and 1801.

The performances on this new disc are technically impeccable, tonally beautiful, faithful to the score, meticulously thought-out, and strongly felt. The slow parts are wonderfully inward, the thorny final fugue is unusually light and transparent.

The players' ensemble and balance are excellent, with natural, conversational give-and-take. Especially remarkable is their ability to capture and change mood, character, and expression with great subtlety through phrasing, nuance, inflection, and poised liberties.

Though not everyone may agree with all the interpretive choices, this is a valuable addition to the Beethoven discography.

Playful, charming, brilliant, the performances seem designed to entertain, but harbor delightful surprising modulations and magical moments of deep, sometimes tragic expressiveness.

E.E.


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