I must admit that I am not particularly fond of chamber music. Yet, there are quite a few works that I really love. One of them is Brahms’s Cello Sonata in E Minor.
I am actually practicing the piece at the moment, as I am going to play it with a wonderful cellist this coming November.
There is something special about this sonata: from the very first note (the deep E played by the cello) one enters immediately into its world – a somber world, full of deep nostalgia and longing. It's a world that fits perfectly with the very nature of the cello's particular sound quality.
What I also find truly great about this work is the careful balance between the two instruments: this is not a “cello sonata”. It is a sonata for piano and cello. Both instruments retain their individuality, without ever becoming mere accompaniment devices. As has rightly been said, the piano “should be a partner - often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner - but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role”. Studying carefully the score, I quickly came to the conclusion that, actually, the piano part has all the qualities of a solo work. One can feel sheer happiness by just playing the piano part!
Each movement has its own beauty, as well as its own individuality (in fact, I don't see much "unity" in the work, ie elements of one movement coming back in another movement).
The 1st movement (Allegro non troppo) has a distinctive “autumnal” colour that speaks immensly to my heart.
What can I say about the Allegretto quasi Menuetto? The middle section has a chopinesque quality and its melody remained in my head from the very first time I heard it. Love, restrained pathos, sweetness - all in one musical phrase...
As for the third movement (a fugue), this is a more cerebral work, quite tricky from a technical point of view. I think it should be the most difficult of the three in terms of “togetherness”. I read somewhere that the theme is actually based on Contrapunctus number 13 – from the Art of Fugue- and I am wondering if this is the case.
All in all, this is a great, a monumental piece of music – one of the best works that Brahms composed. It will be a great challenge to play it – and I really can’t wait!!