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Sunday, 9.27.

09, 1:00 am

Beethoven Unleashed – Cello Sonatas at the Austrian Embassy


by Jens F. Laurson

L.v.Beethoven, Cello Sonatas 1-3, Kleinhapl & Woyke

ARS SACD 38035 (74:45)

When a small label releases a CD of well known music by a lesser known musician, every bit of publicity can
make the difference between going on unnoticed or becoming at least a blip on the scene. Ars Produktion is a
small label, and cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl (with pianist Andreas Woyke) isn’t particularly well known.
Beethoven, however, is—and Kleinhapl decided to add his name to the many great names who have recorded
the first three Cello Sonatas, opp.5 and 69. Accompanied, as it came, by overly enthusiastic press clippings,
puff-pieces, and reviews at least two of which read like very skillfully written press releases (and probably are),
I approached the (SA)CD with more trepidation than eagerness.

Not the least in light of Kleinhapl’s appearance at the Austrian Embassy on October 1st I’m glad to report that
the release, neither the quality of the playing nor the interpretation, leave no room for any misgivings. This is
refreshingly gutsy Beethoven playing of the highest order, ferocious and musical. It would be an awkward
performance, actually, if it were not for the pianist to excel at least every bit as much as Kleinhapl on his 1743
Guadagnini (“ex von Zweygberg”). Woyke doesn’t ‘accompany’, he leads, he embellishes and intensifies along
with Kleinhapl, and reigns his partner in when necessary. But for the delicious sound of Kleinhapl’s cello, even
when he abuses the poor instrument, the interpretation might be titled: “It’s the pianism, stupid.”

Kleinhapl makes much of his conception of Beethoven which he finds at odds with the perception of Beethoven
he grew up with. “I’ve always had difficulties with Beethoven” Kleinhapl said to me in an interview,
“difficulties generally with the ‘Viennese Classical style’ which is part of such a manicured, dainty society. I’m
very expressive, very energetic, maybe more South American by temperament [Kleinhapl has a Belgian mother
and an Austrian Father], and I didn’t learn to think of Beethoven as a romantic composer until recently. Only
then did I start to feel comfortable with my instinct, which was to not go for elegance… I don’t think that
Beethoven always played beautiful but rough by any means, if necessary, and with plenty power.”

I suspect this attitude of Beethoven as a wildly dark, brooding romantic composer will be surprising to at least
music lovers in the English speaking world. Not for it being novel but for being so common place as to already
border a cliché, perpetuated in movies, biographies, and recordings. Apparently the Beethoven reception in
Vienna, placing him strictly in the context of Haydn and Mozart, is radically different from the rest of the
world. Surprising as this late conversion to “wild Beethoven” may be, all we need to be interested in are the
results of Kleinhapl getting dirty with Ludwig van. And perhaps it was this self-conscious breaking with an old
Beethoven image that has made Kleinhapl and Woyke really explore and audibly enjoy their newfound liberties.
Other cellists might have thought of Beethoven as a troubled romantic for decades, but I’ve not yet heard
Beethoven quite so unleashed.
Refreshingly, Kleinhapl doesn’t just talk about Beethoven or his east coast concerts (Annapolis September 27th,
New York, September 29th,) in the conversation. Instead, we talk about modern music, which had been the
primary focus of his career after Claudio Abbado encouraged him—still a member of the Gustav Mahler Youth
Orchestra, then—to “discover new textures, more complex sounds, more difficult rhythmical structures”. Since
then he premiered several new concertos and features Knut Nystedt’s “Stabat Mater” and Sofia Gubaidulina’s
“Sonnengesang” (both for cello and choir, the latter adding percussion) in his repertoire.
“I’m very glad to have done modern music before turning to old music”, he continues, “because listening to
Haydn, for instance, after having worked so much with contemporary music, you hit upon questions than you
ever thought could possibly be contained in Haydn. I also have a completely different understanding of Bach.
And I don’t look at Schubert or even Schnittke in the same way anymore. Two composers who complement
each other very nicely, by the way: The former seems to have few questions, and Schnittke only questions.
Perfect for understanding each better through the other.”
Kleinhapl is also a big advocate of explaining unfamiliar music, before playing it. After playing a Lutosławski
piece to an un-introduced audience at the Eggenberg Festival and receiving empty stares, he decided to give
brief introductions before 20th century works—even to a Shostakovich Sonata—with great success.
“Afterwards, the people absolutely loved the work; I think because it helped make the piece more approachable
to the audience. In the last 60 years there has been created a big gap between the podium and the audience.
Musicians and composers have not been approachable for audiences; they didn’t stop to talk to the audience—
metaphorically, but also literally. That separation of entertainment and music is a modern phenomenon, and
helping the ears understand what they listen to might help narrow that gap.”
Finally, we talk a bit about the Super Audio CD format the ARS recording (any trouble marketing in the UK,
one wonders) comes in. It wasn’t a choice of Kleinhapl’s, but “the label decided to go for that—unfortunately
very expensive—format, and before we recorded the sonatas, they sat me down and showed me the difference. I
was really impressed with the results, although I’m not sure if it was necessarily the right decision. Apparently
it’s an important niche market in the US and Asia, if less so in Europe.”
And has he, after the demonstration of its capabilities, set his home up for high resolution surround sound yet?
“No”, Kleinhapl laughs, “I haven’t got the money to do it properly. I’m spending everything on bows, modern
ones, right now. They’re tailor made for me and my Guadagnini, heavier, with special titanium parts. But
perhaps when I find ‘the’ bow and sell the others, I’ll invest into listening to myself in surround.”
The Annapolis recital takes place at St. John´s College (admission free) today, September 27th, 4PM. (For more
information call: 202 707-9897 or email: wae@comcast.net) The recital at the Embassy of Austria on
Thursday, October 1st begins at 7:30PM. Admission is also free, but registration required.