Beethoven, Cello Sonatas / Variations, Yo-Yo Ma, E. Ax (Sony Classical, 1987)
Beethoven, Cello Sonatas 3/5, Yo-Yo Ma, E. Ax (remastered, 2013)
That first installment was in the smaller venue of the Terrace Theater, a space that could not possibly hold the audience amassed for Ma and Ax. This concert had the feeling of an event, and audience enthusiasm boiled over into some applause breaks in between movements, much to the performers' amusement and (so it seemed) pleasure. The time since they recorded these sonatas for Sony represents a lot of water under the bridge. Little surprise that how they play the works now is quite different, with perhaps more little slips and minor issues, especially on Ma's part, but more importantly interpretations that were quite different.
The fourth and fifth sonatas, paired by the composer as op. 102, are sublime works of Beethoven's late period. Both end with genial fugues — solemn counterpoint as a parting wink of the eye — in a way reminiscent of the op. 110 piano sonata. The performers stretched and pulled the Andante introduction of no. 4, to meditative and tender effect, with an equally rhapsodic handling of the Adagio introduction to the second movement. They applied the same rhythmic freedom to the opening of no. 5, while here the second movement had the tragic air of a funeral march, not lachrymose but steeped in tragedy, with the major-key B section like a sweet memory. The coda of this movement was the evening's most prayerful moment, sotto voce but laser-focused.
Joe Banno, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, partners in sublime (Washington Post, April 14)