Searing performances from two consummate storytellers 

Christian Poltér: Brahms, Schumann

The Strad Issue: April 2024


Searing performances from two consummate storytellers

Musicians: Christian Poltéra (cello) Ronald Brautigam (piano)

Works: Brahms: Cello Sonatas: no.1 in E minor; no.2 in F major. Schumann: Fünf Stücke im Volkston

Catalogue number: BIS BIS-2427 (SACD)

Brahms’s two cello sonatas come from opposite ends of his career and represent a sea change in his approach to the genre. The First, in three movements, has no real slow movement, but opens in a state of lyrical unease. The Second bears a hymn-like slow movement of considerable poignance and replaces the intermezzo-like Allegretto of the First with a scherzo marked passionato. Christian Poltéra and Ronald Brautigam are acutely responsive to Brahms’s invention throughout, locating unerringly the inner force that drives them along, never lingering to admire the beauty to be found within them.

Not that these performances are without beauty of their own. Poltéra fully exploits the woody resonance of his 1711 ‘Mara’ Stradivari, unafraid to sing as the solo line rises above the stave, but with a special emphasis on the baritonal gruffness to be found in the lower register. Brautigam plays a copy by Paul McNulty of an 1868 Streicher, with its softer attack and slightly attenuated dynamic range. The opening of the Second Sonata is impetuous to say the least, but in this reading there is a contrasting lightness of touch in the gnomic central movement of the First and an imaginative variety of phrasing that prevents its closing fugue from becoming clotted.

In between comes a performance of Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style in which Poltéra and Brautigam both show themselves to be vivid storytellers, setting the seal on a deeply involving album.