SOMMCD 0158 – Brahms: Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38; Sonata No. 2 in F, Op. 99; Four Serious Songs, Op. 121. Alexander Baillie, cello with John Thwaites, piano
Sontata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 – recorded on Rönisch grand piano
Sonata No. 2 in F, Op. 99 – recorded on Ehrbar grand piano
Four Serious Songs, Op. 121 (transcr. Shafran/Baillie) – recorded on Streicher grand piano
“These are passionate, focused, full-blooded readings without a hint of reticence or apology. Alexander Baillie and John Thwaites invest each work with the power of utter belief, and as a result these are probably the best current versions of the Bridge, Ireland, Rubbra and Delius Sonatas.” Calum MacDonald, BBC Music Magazine, Chamber Choice, October 2013.
“It’s an outstanding partnership: take for example their glorious handling of Ireland’s beautiful slow movement. Throughout, Baillie’s rewardingly intelligent phrasing is matched by Thwaites’s warm, generous, perfectly judged pianism.” Stephen Pritchard, The Observer, October 2013.
With this issue SOMM salutes Alexander Baillie in his 60th Birthday year – a cause for celebration and also an opportunity to remember back to his early years when as a youngster of 12 he was directly inspired by Jacqueline du Pré for whom he played regularly at her home, and on the BBC Masterclasses. Baillie is considered by many to be the cellist who stands most directly in line with du Pré, sharing with her the same passion and conviction in his playing.
A second cause for celebration is the close artistic partnership between Alexander Baillie and pianist John Thwaites, now in its 30th year! Perhaps, though, the most important single factor that makes this CD very special is that the two artists were privileged to record in Vienna, at the Gert Hecher Klavier-Athelier, on original period pianos that are not only true to the Brahms timeline but also have great intrinsic beauty. Brahms loved the most powerful of modern Bechsteins and American Steinways, but for himself he had a straight-strung Graf from the Schumanns, and from 1871, an 1868 straight-strung Streicher that was a present from the firm. Baillie and Thwaites were happy to choose, as the only straight-strung piano on the disc, a German Rönisch for the First Brahms Sonata, written in 1865, and recorded on a piano built in 1860. Its main characteristic is its purity of singing line which, at the same time, leaves the thick Brahmsian textures clear and uncongested. It’s worth noting that Barenboim’s new straight-strung concert grand on which he has recorded the Brahms Piano Concertos marks the same conscious desire to recapture the best qualities of the older instruments.
The Ehrbar used for the Second Brahms Sonata has a warmth of tone that seems perfectly suited to the muscular writing of the first movement and the bouncing figures of the Scherzo. Erhbar’s grand pianos are usually characterised by a soft, sensuous sound with a very resonant bass. Finally, the Streicher grand used for the recording of the Four Serious Songs dates from 1878, measures 260cm in length, is cross-strung and features simple English action. The sound is large, dignified, profound and colourful, typical of all of Streicher’s instruments.
On this recording Alexander Baillie plays on a 1670 Cassini cello but with metal strings. Most performers have to decide exactly which elements of historically informed performance practice to adopt and for some the technical security and reliability of metal strings can better facilitate a varied use of vibrato and freely creative playing.
Alexander Baillie is internationally recognised as one of the finest cellists of his generation. He studied at London’s Royal College of Music with Joan Dickson and Anna Shuttleworth and with André Navarra in Vienna. He has performed with many of the top orchestras and conductors, appearing regularly as cello soloist in concertos, recitals, masterclasses and festivals throughout the world. Notable first performances of contemporary works, often written for him, have included Penderecki, Hans Werner Henze, Takemitsu, Colin Matthews, Richard Rodney Bennett and H.K. Gruber. Recordings include the Tippett Triple Concerto with the composer conducting, and the Shostakovich First Concerto under Benjamin Zander. His recording of the Britten Cello Suites achieved the highest acclaim in the New York press, and of the performance of the Dutilleux Cello Concerto with the Boston Philharmonic, the composer was heard to say that it was the finest performance of his work that he had ever heard. A passionate and motivational teacher, Alexander continues to be in demand as Professor of Cello at the Hochschule für Künste, Bremen in Germany and as visiting Professor at the Birmingham Conservatoire, including among his ex-pupils, Natalie Clein, Ben Hughes and Guy Johnstone.
John Thwaites is best known for his collaborative work with strings and as a founder member of the Primrose Piano Quartet. Having a special affinity with the cello, he has worked over decades with cellists Alexander Baillie and Johannes Goritzki, and appeared with Pierre Doumenge, Louise Hopkins, Natalie Clein, Alexander Ivashkin, David Cohen, Oleg Kogan, Li Wei and others. John performs regularly in the major festivals across Europe, broadcasts for radio and has issued a string of critically acclaimed recordings. With the Primrose Piano Quartet he commissioned a major new work by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (premiered at Cleltenham), inspired a set of variations on a Burns Air (premiered at London’s King’s Place) and commissioned a further Piano Quartet from Anthony Payne.
Whilst Head of Keyboard at Christ’s Hospital, he programmed the complete Chamber Music of Brahms, taking all 17 piano parts — an abiding passion increasingly informed by historic performance study. John’s more recent teaching career includes posts at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is course Director of the Cadenza International Summer Music School, a piano and strings festival resident at the Purcell School in July, and Head of Keyboard Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire.
On This Recording
- Cello Sonata No. 1: I. Allegro non troppo
- Cello Sonata No. 1: II. Adagio – Andante con moto
- Cello Sonata No. 1: III. Allegro
- Cello Sonata No. 2: I. Allegro vivace
- Cello Sonata No. 2: II. Adagio affettuoso
- Cello Sonata No. 2: III. Allegro passionato
- Cello Sonata No. 2: IV. Allegro molto
- 4 Ernste Gesange: No. 1. Denn es gehet dem Menschen
- 4 Ernste Gesange: No. 2. Ich wandte mich
- 4 Ernste Gesange: No. 3. O Tod, wie bitter bist du
- 4 Ernste Gesange: No. 4. Wenn ich mit Menschen-und mit Engelzungen redete