Gernsheim Complete Cello Sonatas – Three Views of a Life

Friedrich Gernsheim was an important composer, conductor, and concert pianist at the end of the 19th Century. He was a close friend of Brahms, and his style somewhat similar. Like Brahms, Gernsheim wrote in “pure” music that eschewed extramusical inspiration.

This release features Gernshiem’s three cello sonatas, as well as two other works for cello and piano. The first sonata was finished in 1868, the second in 1906, the last in 1916, two years before the composer’s death. Collectively, they provide three snapshots of Gernsheim’s development as a composer.

Gernsheim completed his Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor when he was 29. To me, the work sound somewhat conventional. Gernsheim seems to stay close to the classical norms of the era. It’s a well-crafted work, but one that didn’t engage me as much as the other two.

His second sonata is a different matter. Long, flowing melodies readily break into motivic building blocks. The sonata is tightly organized, with little wasted energy. Gernsheim compositional skill is more fully developed, and it shows. Every note is there for a reason. The harmonies are much more adventuresome, and Gernsheim uses some interesting third relationships to link together his material.

The Sonata No. 3 in E minor, Op. 87 started out as a reworking of the second sonata. In the end, he built an entirely new composition over the structure of the second. The Sonata has an unrelenting emotional intensity that commands your attention. The finely crafted melodies give testament to Gernsheim’s skill.

Although cleanly recorded. the sound of the cello seemed a little thin to my ears, especially in the upper register. Technically the playing was first-rate. Gernsheim’s sonatas leave plenty of room of individual expression. Alexander Hülshoff’s playing had a singing quality to it that made Gernsheim’s lyrical melodies especially beautiful.

Gernshiem was a concert pianist and wrote accordingly. Although quite challenging, Oliver Triendl played with sensitivity and aplomb. I think the success of these works depends on the emotional investment of the players. These are very successful performances.

Friedrich Gernsheim: Complete Cello Sonatas
Alexander Hülshoff, cello; Oliver Triendl, piano
CPO 555 054-2

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