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Cello Sonata Op.36

Edvard Grieg (b. 1843 - d. 1907)

Andreas Brantelid

Andreas Brantelid

Composer
Edvard Grieg (b. 1843 - d. 1907)
Composition Year
1883
Work Movements
1. Allegro agitato
2. Andante molto tranquillo
3. Allegro
Artists
Andreas Brantelid [cello], José Gallardo [piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Grieg’s magnificent cello sonata, like Mendelssohn’s, was written for a cello-playing brother. This is a work that pulls no punches with its powerful themes and massive climaxes. The melodies seem to draw their power from the spirit of the cello itself, while the keyboard’s impatience is palpable, forever seeking to climb the next mountain.

The cello begins quietly with the main theme over the piano's threatening accompaniment, but the piano, like a gale from the North, soon rises to fever pitch and all but drowns the cello in crashing chords and octaves. All this is over in a few moments, closed by a brief and even more violent coda, and we are left in stunned silence. Then, magically, three peaceful C-major chords announce the arrival of calm weather. As the cello sings the theme over rich harmonies so typical of Grieg, one can almost feel the warmth of the sun. An expressive dialogue between the instruments carries the theme through various keys before C major excitedly re-emerges and cascades of arpeggios sweep us into the development. One senses trouble on hearing the second subject in a minor key and indeed another gale overwhelms us in with the cello and piano exchanging lightning bolts in ever-quicker succession. This storm never entirely dies out and reappears in full force in both the recapitulation and the coda.

The gorgeous slow movement opens with a poignantly beautiful chord progression, as if the notes are dropping down from a clear sky. When the cello takes over Grieg has a seemingly endless resource of harmonies with which he colours the single, repeated notes of the melody. Such beauty cannot last and it inevitably gives way to brooding leading to increasingly violent outbursts, culminating in a passage where the piano cries out in pain. Out of this climax we hear, pianissimo, a trace of the first theme, and gradually the whole theme returns with even more beguiling harmonies. After a climax worthy of Rachmaninov, a delicate coda concludes the movement.

The folk-style finale is introduced by a ghostly fragment for solo cello, the kind of mysterious idea that you know will come back to haunt you. The exuberant opening theme then takes over leading eventually into the second theme, which is actually created from the first subject slowed to half tempo. This seemingly naïve material is later transformed into a series of explosive climaxes, culminating in a dramatic re-appearance of the otherworldly fragment from the opening bars. A full recapitulation follows, with a brilliant coda in which the now far from mysterious theme makes its final, triumphant appearance. 

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Cello Sonata Op.36

Composer: Edvard Grieg (b. 1843 - d. 1907)
Performance date: Wednesday 2nd July 2014
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Edvard Grieg (b. 1843 - d. 1907)
Work Title Cello Sonata Op.36
Composition Year 1883
Work Movements 1. Allegro agitato
2. Andante molto tranquillo
3. Allegro
Artist(s) Andreas Brantelid [cello], José Gallardo [piano]
Performance Date Wednesday 2nd July 2014
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Crespo Recital Series
Duration 00:26:29
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation vc, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Grieg’s magnificent cello sonata, like Mendelssohn’s, was written for a cello-playing brother. This is a work that pulls no punches with its powerful themes and massive climaxes. The melodies seem to draw their power from the spirit of the cello itself, while the keyboard’s impatience is palpable, forever seeking to climb the next mountain.

The cello begins quietly with the main theme over the piano's threatening accompaniment, but the piano, like a gale from the North, soon rises to fever pitch and all but drowns the cello in crashing chords and octaves. All this is over in a few moments, closed by a brief and even more violent coda, and we are left in stunned silence. Then, magically, three peaceful C-major chords announce the arrival of calm weather. As the cello sings the theme over rich harmonies so typical of Grieg, one can almost feel the warmth of the sun. An expressive dialogue between the instruments carries the theme through various keys before C major excitedly re-emerges and cascades of arpeggios sweep us into the development. One senses trouble on hearing the second subject in a minor key and indeed another gale overwhelms us in with the cello and piano exchanging lightning bolts in ever-quicker succession. This storm never entirely dies out and reappears in full force in both the recapitulation and the coda.

The gorgeous slow movement opens with a poignantly beautiful chord progression, as if the notes are dropping down from a clear sky. When the cello takes over Grieg has a seemingly endless resource of harmonies with which he colours the single, repeated notes of the melody. Such beauty cannot last and it inevitably gives way to brooding leading to increasingly violent outbursts, culminating in a passage where the piano cries out in pain. Out of this climax we hear, pianissimo, a trace of the first theme, and gradually the whole theme returns with even more beguiling harmonies. After a climax worthy of Rachmaninov, a delicate coda concludes the movement.

The folk-style finale is introduced by a ghostly fragment for solo cello, the kind of mysterious idea that you know will come back to haunt you. The exuberant opening theme then takes over leading eventually into the second theme, which is actually created from the first subject slowed to half tempo. This seemingly naïve material is later transformed into a series of explosive climaxes, culminating in a dramatic re-appearance of the otherworldly fragment from the opening bars. A full recapitulation follows, with a brilliant coda in which the now far from mysterious theme makes its final, triumphant appearance.