When the cello has to console the piano

grieg-sonata
Autumn melancholy. © Charles Thibo

Here is a little gem. In many respects. A wonderful piece. Extraordinary artists. Add the two and you get a great musical moment. The piece: Sonata in A minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 36, written by Edvard Grieg. The artists: Françoise Groben playing the cello and Alfredo Perl at the piano. Perl is a Chilean-German pianist and conductor, known for his Beethoven interpretations. Mrs. Groben was a Luxembourg cellist, no, she was THE Luxembourg cellist.

To the memory of Françoise Groben

She passed away in 2011 aged 45. I was very sad when I heard the news at the time. Mrs. Groben’s father taught me German literature at high school. The first live concert I attended outside a regular concert hall was a performance by Mrs. Groben at the Basilica of St. Willibrord in Echternach. A mesmerizing concert I will never forget. This post is dedicated to Françoise Groben.

The Norwegian composer wrote the Sonata in A major in 1882–3, just a few years before he composed the suite “From Holberg’s Time”, that I have presented in an earlier post. In 1882 he held for the last time an official appointment, in this case the conductor’s post of Bergen Harmonic Society. From that moment on he was free to embark on commissioned compositions. He would compose mostly in spring and summer and devote autumn and winter to lengthy concert tours. Grieg dedicated his only sonata for cello and piano to his brother John, a proficient cellist.

Melancholy and newly found joy

Allegro agitato is the tempo of the first movement of Op. 36… I sense something tragic and sad in the introduction, the piano is very insisting while the cello confers a feeling of doom. Then a slow, melancholic short cadence for the piano only, the cello picks up the mood until it reaches a climax at the middle of the movement. Tears flowing freely… marvelous!

The second movement starts with the piano and a variations of the aforementioned cadence, then – andante molto tranquillo – the cello sets in as if it would like to console the piano in its melancholic introspection. After moments of grief and in  the middle of all misery, Grieg offers consolation. Very moving, very powerful.

The third and last movement starts slowly, gently, but the emotional storm is not yet over. However, the mood is different. Sadness has been sublimated into joy, live goes on, obstacles exist to be surmounted and this is what is happening right now. The sorrow of the past is but a memory and the joy of life is back. Allegro! Yes!

Françoise Groben and Alfredo Perl recorded Grieg’s Sonata in A minor for Cello and Piano in 2009.

© Charles Thibo

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