Beethoven’s cello sonatas have been getting a lot of playtime lately. This is the latest to vie for attention, though it’s not the most recently recorded. It was taped in two stages, the first in January 2006, the second in March that same year. The venue was the acoustically near-perfect Music Hall at the Troy Savings Bank in Troy, New York. 

I was a bit critical of cellist Li-Wei Qin’s release of these works, the last version of them to come to me for review, in part, at least, because his survey didn’t include Beethoven’s three sets of variations for cello and piano, which, to the best of my recollection, every release I’ve reviewed and with which I’m familiar with does. The short playing time of Qin’s two-CD set was thus a factor that had to be considered. 

With Hanani and Ponce we’re once again back to the almost all-inclusive compilations, though there is still the horn sonata Beethoven wrote for Giovanni Punto and then transcribed for cello. Though there are a number of variously coupled recordings of the cello version, cellist Miklós Perényi together with pianist András Schiff made the only set I’m aware of that offers the “Punto” along with the five numbered sonatas and the three sets of variations, all on two ECM CDs. 

Native Israeli cellist Yehuda Hanani, professor of cello at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, studied with Leonard Rose at Juilliard and with Pablo Casals. It should come as no surprise then that Hanani possesses Rose’s tonal amplitude and Casals’s intellectual discipline, breathtaking technique, and limpid style. What happens when you merge the two together? Well, if I once described Rose as the Ethel Merman of the cello, it would be as if the singer had been trained and possessed the discipline and technique to take the lead role in a Handel opera. A Semele simile, of course, would be a bit of a stretch in this context, but the point is that Hanani assimilated the best that two rather different cellists and their different approaches to playing the cello had to offer him. 

The results are everywhere manifest in these performances of Beethoven’s works for cello and piano. We hear the tonal bloom, the sheer bigness of sound Hanani draws from his unidentified instrument, immediately and consistently throughout the two early op. 5 sonatas. These are big, bold, modern recital hall readings, not played down to drawing room scale, which is how they likely would have first been heard at the Prussian court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, as performed by one of the Duport brothers; though with Beethoven at the keyboard, I wouldn’t bet the farm that the playing was reservedly polite or mindful of the royal presence. These sonatas were, after all, written for Wilhelm, and though he wasn’t playing them himself—and possibly couldn’t with his limited technique he must have gotten off on the thrill vicariously. 

Large in conception as Hanani’s and Ponce’s performances are, however, these are not the type of hyper-romanticized readings I was rather critical of in my reviews of Zuill Bailey/Simone Dinnerstein in Fanfare 33:2 and Friedrich Klcinhapl/Andreas Woyke in 33:3. Hanani and Ponce do not pull tempos about or indulge in excesses of any kind. Yes, this is playing projected to the back rows of a fairly sizeable hall; that cannot be denied. But within that scale, the performances are tasteful, stylish, and true to the scores. 

By the time we reach the A-Major Sonata, op. 69, we’re in a different musical universe, and it’s fascinating to hear how Hanani and Ponce adapt their approach. This is a score that stylistically has much in common with the op. 70 piano trios, of which the second is the famous “Ghost” Trio. The work ended up with a dedication to Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, one of Beethoven’s physicians and probably responsible for helping the composer to secure an annuity of 4,000 florins. But Gleichenstein didn’t play the cello, and the sonata was first performed by Josef Linke, described as a “slightly deformed orphan from Breslau,” who, despite his deformity, must have been a very accomplished cellist because he was immediately taken on by the Schuppanzigh Quartet. 

The sonata has a certain improvised quality about it. Lyrical passages are abruptly interrupted by rapid-fire bursts of energetic passagework, strictures of sonata form are loosened, and except for a brief slow introduction to the first movement, the work has no slow movement. As noted above, the style of the piece and to some extent its content are closely related to its op. 70 cousins. 

Honesty compels me to report that not all goes perfectly in Hanani’s execution; his fingers have a bit of a disagreement with the fingerboard as to exactly where they need to go at around 1:42 in the first movement, resulting in some questionable intonation. But after that, all goes swimmingly. As mentioned, he and Ponce alter their approach somewhat from that taken in the op. 5 sonatas. Here, in keeping with the more expansive and expressive nature of the music, their phrasing is broader than and not quite as pressed as it was earlier. 

With the op. 102 sonatas, we enter into the intellectual discipline of fugue and the more rarefied atmosphere of Beethoven’s later style. Once again, Hanani and Ponce adopt subtle changes in their approach that suits the music’s tone. I now sense what I would call an exploratory spirit to their playing, a willingness to linger longer and probe deeper into the significance of the notes. The results are expressive and revealing. 

The three sets of variations are charming, if lightweight, Beethoven divertissements, played with appropriate style and poise. 

This latest arrival in the Beethoven cello sonata convoy will not displace my favorite version of these works, which, for some time now, has been that by Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt on Hyperion. But I’ve made room on the shelf right next to them for this very fine set from Yehuda Hanani and Walter Ponce. If you have room on your shelf for one more, this one can be definitely recommended. Jerry Dubins 


This is the first commercially available recording of Jorge Martin’s output of cello music. Martin is a Cuban-born American composer who has had a prolific career in a variety of media. He writes in an appealing tonal idiom that is often engrossing and quite original. A serious-minded composer, Martin has a penchant for grappling with difficult philosophical concepts and important existential questions, and the five works on this recording, which were composed between 1997 and 2010, are cases in point. 

The disc opens with Four Noble Truths, a 30-minute, four-movement sonata for cello and piano that purports to be loosely based on Buddha’s teachings about suffering, impermanence, and the path to enlightenment. Whatever the source of Martin’s inspiration, this is interesting music that stands very much on its own and is worth hearing. I am particularly taken with the somber second movement and the extended finale, which provides an appropriate conclusion to this passionate and mysterious work. 

Perhaps even more remarkable is the 10-minute piece for unaccompanied cello, Recuerda, which Martin wrote in 2005 for a close friend who was terminally ill. Although composed with the expectation that it would be played at a memorial service, the piece was premiered by cellist Yehuda Hanani while its dedicatee was still alive, ostensibly to celebrate his “77.7th birthday.” Recuerda begins and ends austerely, with the cello imitating the drone of bagpipes. Martin claims that the extended middle section is an homage to the dedicatee’s favorite composer, Robert Schumann. To my cars, it is in fact a lot closer particularly in character—to Shostakovich’s late works, such as the Viola Sonata. Regardless, Martin’s affection for his dying friend is apparent throughout, and the piece as a whole is deeply affecting. I believe that Martin has made a very important addition to the cello repertoire. Cellists looking to add contemporary music to their recitals would be well advised to give Recuerda a close listen. 

Although comparatively lighter fare, the remaining works—the nocturnes for cello and piano; the crossover, Latin-inspired Ropa Vieja for cello, accordion and percussion, and the mildly sarcastic Hollywood Variations for cello and piano are very enjoyable and add to the listener’s understanding of Martin’s musical interests and range. 

The quality of the performances fully matches that of the music. Yehuda Hanani, a champion of Martin and, I suspect, the catalyst behind this recording, plays with heart, mind and a big, romantic tone that is suited to this music. Hanani is joined in the sonata, nocturne, and variations by the outstanding Walter Ponce, who plays with intelligence and passion. In Ropa Vieja, Hanani is joined by accordionist William Schimmel and percussionist Arti Dixson, who deliver sensitive and idiomatic performances. The recording was made at the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is of uniformly excellent quality. I enjoyed this disc a great deal, and I will be returning to it often. Radu A. Lelutiu


Review by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.)-On a day with the feel of and surrounded by scenery outside that may have reminded the musicians of a snowy winter’s day back home, the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin under the direction of Misha Rachlevsky helped usher in the 20th anniversary season of the Close Encounters with Music series at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Sunday with a stirring, eclectic concert that ranged from the light lyricism of Elgar to the stormy Angst of Shostakovich, with detours in Boccherini, Dvorak and a smidgen of Bach.

After dispensing with Edward Elgar’s Serenade in E minor for String Orchestra, Op. 20 (1892), the 16 or so apparently 20-something musicians under the steady hand of music director Rachlevsky, conducting from memory without a score the pleasant diversion, the group sunk its teeth into the program’s backbone, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, Op. 110 (1960). based on his signature String Quartet No. 8 in C minor (performed here in tribute to the life and legacy of longtime Close Encounters supporter and patron John Jack Fitzpatrick). 

One of Shostakovich’s most personal pieces, mostly devoid of the taint of his accommodation with the Stalin regime, the work, performed in five conjoined movements, betrays its geographic origins, as it was originally composed while Shostakovich was working on a film score in the ruined city of Dresden. One needn’t have known that tidbit to be touched by the drama, terror and violence inherent in the composition, which immediately following the light and breezy Elgar, plunged the audience into a whirlwind of emotion. 

The piece opened with a plaintive, Gypsy-inflected violin solo, undergirded by mournful droning of cello and bass, betraying its origins as a string quartet. The theme was answered, or argued, by the rest of the violin section, perhaps trying to reassure the Gypsy that all was not darkness and gloom, while acknowledging the terrible cost that had been paid. 

Under Rachlevsky’s taut hand, the Allegro Molto second movement nearly crashed into the opening Largo like a swarm of bees or a chase scene in an cop thriller (indeed, Shostakovich was working on a film score in Dresden when he composed this very cinematic piece, which he dedicated to the victims of fascism and the war.” 

The players tackled the composer’s dance motifs, which he used not for dances but for frenzied effect, with stern alacrity, popping them out in short staccato-like bursts as if it were a Halloween scare. Shostakovich actually invested this work with his personal stamp, as it if were intended to be his signature – the four notes that dominate the score are D-Eb-C-B, which in German notation are D-S-C-H, letters derived from his name. But again, the effect was overwhelming, and the players rose to the challenge. 

As did they for Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 9 in B flat Major, G 482 (circa 1765), placed here as a showcase for Close Encounters With Music founder and artistic director Yehuda Hanani, who is also a world renowned soloist. 

And indeed, it was a fitting tribute to the maestro. After taking the measure of Hanani, who nearly left the ensemble behind in a trail of dust or vapor after the opening passage, Rachlevsky’s outfit caught up and rose to the occasion of supporting Hanani, and both soloist and ensemble found common ground tonally and in timbre. Hanani used the opportunity provided by the score’s cadenza to nod to the music series’ 20th anniversary by interpolating the popular “Happy Birthday melody into the final improvisation – fortunately it fit like a glove, harmonically- and everyone landed together in a Close Encounters With Music Founder final note of triumph.  

The Close Encounters With Music series is a treasure of our cultural community, providing as it does the opportunity to hear the greatest art music-from pre-Classical through Romantic, 20th-century, Minimalism, up through to contemporary pieces commissioned specifically for these concerts – performed by world-class artists, among them Hanani himself, and presented in the region’s finest intimate concert halls. While the presence of Tanglewood and the summer residency of the Boston Symphony undoubtedly have created the foundation for a strong listener base for classical music in the region, it’s Close Encounters that serves to maintain and perpetuate that base, the artists, and the audience on a year-round basis, and in the process forming a genuine community of aficionados and listeners. This is cultural locavorism at its finest. Happy 20th, Close Encounters With Music. 


The cellist Yehuda Hanani has been fascinated in recent years with the music of Eduard Franck, a German composer who studied with Mendelssohn and was highly regarded by Schumann. During the Mendelssohn bicentenary in 2009 Mr. Hanani saw an opportunity to bring Franck’s music to light by programming works of both composers in the series he directs, Close Encounters With Music. Mr. Hanani revived and expanded on that idea at the Frick Collection on Tuesday evening in a program that included not only Mendelssohn and Franck scores but also a piece by Moritz Moszkowski, the turn-of-the-last-century virtuoso pianist who, it turns out, studied composition with Franck. 

The program’s centerpiece was what was said to be the American premiere of Franck’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in F (Op. 42), an essay in Mendelssohnian tunefulness tempered by hints of Brahmsian drama. Its long, wide-ranging slow movement shows another influence too: the piano writing, brought to life deftly by James Tocco, briefly channels Bach – melodically, rhythmically and in its bracing chromaticism – before returning to more contemporary (in late-Romantic terms) meditations. 

Though Franck took care to give both players substantial material and lost few opportunities for lively interplay, he clearly meant the brighter spotlight to shine on the cello line. Mr. Hanani’s rich tone and thoughtful phrasing made a powerful case for it in a performance that had a convincing subtext: The 19th-century cello repertory is not so vast that cellists (or their admirers) should neglect works this opulently lyrical. 

Given Moszkowski’s enduring reputation as a pianistic firebrand and the technical dazzle that his solo piano works require, you might expect his Suite in G minor (Op. 71) to be packed with keyboard fireworks. But Moszkowski, seemingly bent on showing that his compositional imagination was not thoroughly bound up in his instrumental technique, gave the most ear catching music to a pair of violins, which spin out sweet, long-lined melodies, both in tandem and in dialogue. The players here, Shmuel Ashkenasi and Nurit Pacht, played the music with more energy than beauty, but its considerable charms shone through. 

Mr. Ashkenasi, Mr. Hanani and Mr. Tocco closed the concert with a soulful, fiery performance of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor (Op. 66). Although Mr. Ashkenasi sounded slightly abrasive at times in the Moszkowski, his tone here was focused and sweet, particularly in the lush Andante espressivo. The ensemble’s reading was brisk but never breathless, and it was at its tightest – and steamiest – in the Allegro appasionato finale.

Photograph of Chamber Orchestra Kremlin

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Close Encounters with Music, under the direction of cellist Yehuda Hanani, began its 19th season in the Berkshires at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington Saturday evening with a tour de force a seventeen-member ensemble from Moscow, Russia, called the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin. The largest chamber group CEM has ever presented, this was a leap of faith that paid off in a stunning performance by this talented ensemble of young professionals. The most unusual and intriguing music of the evening came with a set of very short piano pieces by Sergei Prokofiev and arranged for string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai entitled Visions Fugitives, Op. 22. Fifteen distinct and separate wonderful vignettes danced, floated, and skittered while producing chromatic and sometimes very dissonant harmonies. Just about every player in the ensemble seemed to be a virtuosic soloist,which made up for some of the slightly off ensemble playing in the violins during the most difficult passages.

The most poignant performance came during Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch, with Yehuda Hanani as the solo cellist. In this solemn music that uses Hebrew melodies, Hanani’s performance was flawless and extremely sensitive, with beautifully shaped phrasing and a helping gesture to the ensemble as it continued his phrases. Cellist and strings blended as with one voice.

Hanani was also soloist in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, an arrangement of his first string quartet for cellist and string orchestra. Although this piece is a cellist’s dream, the orchestral part was mainly accompanimental, although played very well.

The most symphonic work of the evening was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, filled with flowing melodies and short motifs that bounce around among the players. Listening to these lines, especially in the Valse movement, one could sense flying through the melodious air accompanied by angels playing stringed instruments, in a kind of whimsical Chagall painting of Russian village life. The Chamber Orchestra Kremlin shone in this piece.

One caveat: instead of the light and chittering Sonata in C Major by twelve-year-old Gioacchino Rossini played at the beginning of the concert, music director Misha Rachlevsky would be better advised to program a new work, perhaps one of the thirty the group has commissioned, or one by a young Russian composer. This concert needs a fresh sound unknown to an American audience to go with the more familiar fare offered, and to round out an otherwise happy and exciting evening.


Close Encounters With Music stands at the intersection of music, art and the vast richness of Western culture. Entertaining, erudite and lively commentary from founder and Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani puts the composers and their times in perspective to enrich the concert experience. Since the inception of its Commissioning Project in 2001, CEWM has worked with the most distinguished composers of our time—Paul Schoenfield, Osvaldo Golijov, Lera Auerbach, Kenji Bunch, John Musto, among others—to create important new works that have already taken their place in the chamber music canon and on CD. A core of brilliant performers includes pianists James Tocco, Adam Neiman, Walter Ponce and William Wolfram; violinists Shmuel Ashkenasi, Yehonatan Berick, Vadim Gluzman and Toby Appel; harpsichordist Lionel Party; clarinetists Alexander Fiterstein, Charles Neidich; vocalists Dawn Upshaw, Amy Burton, Jennifer Aylmer, Robert White, Lucille Beer and William Sharp; the Vermeer, Amernet, Muir, Manhattan, Avalon, Hugo Wolf quartets, and Cuarteto Latinoamericano; and guitarist Eliot Fisk. Choreographer David Parsons and actors Richard Chamberlain, Jane Alexander and Sigourney Weaver have also appeared as guests, weaving narration and dance into the fabric of the programs.

Photograph of Eric Keefe

(Great Barrington, Mass., June 6) — Even though Close Encounters With Music impresario Yehuda Hanani was sidelined by a high fever and too ill to perform, Saturday night’s season finale, “Prague in Spring.” at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center was among the most dynamic, artistically successful ventures this listener has enjoyed in the 17-year history of this off-season series.

Hanani was able to deliver his usual pre-concert mini-lecture prior to retiring backstage to rest; he explained that after three days of intensive rehearsals with his chosen guest artists in New York City, he was taken ill en route home to Spencertown, N.Y., on the Taconic State Parkway. His wife, Hannah, motored at high speed toward the Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, N.Y., but was flagged down by a state trooper. “A lady in distress shouldn’t be driving,” the sympathetic officer told her, Hanani told the audience. An ambulance was summoned, and “I arrived at the hospital in style,” he quipped. Lyme Disease is a potential diagnosis.

A shrewd programmer and keen judge of talent, the professor of cello at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) since 1987 had already assembled an all-star chamber-music cast for the high-priced gala performance. Upon learning of his illness, the artists made a literally eleventh-hour concert-eve appeal to cellist Wilhelmina Smith, who knew the repertoire and happened to be available despite a busy schedule. On Saturday morning, she loaded her cello, husband and two children into a car for the drive to Great Barrington and an early-afternoon rehearsal.

Smith turned to have been an inspired choice for pianist Lydia Artymiw, violinists Erin Keefe and Lily Francis and violist Toby Appel — their performance of Dvorak’s high-spirited and poetic Piano Quintet, Op. 81 – a desert-island chamber masterwork for most of us — was fleet, nimble, poignant and hair-raising. Of the many live and recorded performances I’ve heard, only a few have measured up to this high standard.

Appel’s prominent part was played with high distinction; Artymiw, a well-known concerto performer with leading orchestras as well as a highly-regarded chamber musician, contributed an assertive, at times hard-driving, interpretation that offered new insights into one of Dvorak’s most-inspired compositions. Violinists Keefe and Francis played well together, literally, and as for Smith, her rich, lush, vibrant tone and spot-on intonation was revelatory.

Smith, a prizewinner in the prestigious Leonard Rose International Cello Competition 13 years ago, was a natural choice since Hanani had studied with Rose decades ago; she made an auspicious debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1988 while still a student at the Curtis Institute. Her current credentials are impeccable — Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, performances with Joshua Bell and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Dawn Upshaw, Yo-Yo Ma, the New York Philharmonic and the Mannes Trio, to cite just a few — and a return engagement at Close Encounters next season would be welcomed with enthusiasm.

The all-Czech program opened with Leos Janacek’s Sonata for Violin and Piano — Keefe and Artymiw captured the jagged, at times thorny, highly accented spirit of the work inspired by the folk music of his native Moravia (part of the Austrian Empire during the 19th century). Janacek’s thoroughly original, groundbreaking style resembles a conversation in the easily-identifiable rhythm, inflections and pitch of the Czech language. This is most evident in the 1914 sonata, reflecting the composer’s anxiety at the outset of World War I; the interplay between piano and cello is alternately agitated and nostalgic; near the end, the violin offers ghostly echoes of the piano’s fragmentary theme. An inspired work, too rarely heard.

Smetana’s Op. 15 Piano Trio is, by turns, hauntingly beautiful and painfully grim; no wonder, since it contains a dirge-like theme and variations reflecting the composer’s grief over the 1855 death of his four-year-old daughter, Bedriska, a victim of scarlet fever, just a year after Gabriela, his second daughter, succumbed to tuberculosis, the same disease that later claimed his wife. The trio is elegiac, a deeply personal work that, at times, arouses tears and sympathy for this personally troubled composer who became deaf in mid-career yet ranks with Dvorak among the greatest Czech composers. Artymiw, Keefe and Smith probed deeply into this disturbing, fascinating work that seizes the listener by the lapel and never lets go. (While writing this review, I downloaded a recording and played it three times.)

After intermission, Close Encounters board chair Marcie Setlow appealed for season subscriptions to finance the 2010-11 schedule, which includes five performances at the Mahaiwe, one at Ozawa Hall, one at the Lenox Athenaeum and two at Manhattan’s Frick Collection. Judging from this inspired season-ender, it would be a worthwhile investment for discerning music lovers.