OutThere Music – Alpha Classics
In the old days (i.e. 1980s and previous), you basically had a number of big guys in the classical music industry, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, RCA, Decca. Minor labels didn’t play such a big role, as most of the important artists were all signed to one of these major labels.
These days, while the big guys are still around (as brands that are part of large conglomerates), the smaller labels really strive.
BIS, Chandos, Hyperion, Harmonia Mundi, all of the really produce excellent classical albums, and if you were to check my 4 and 5 star recommendations on this site, I bet (but haven’t checked) that the independents probably outweigh the former majors by 2:1 at least.
Alpha Classics, now part of the Belgian/French OutThere Music, is one of those labels, that produces an outstanding number of great recordings, featuring great artist like Céline Frisch (see my review of her Well-Tempered Clavier here), Nelson Goerner, Alexis Kossenko’s Les Ambassadors (see my review of their Telemann album here), or Café Zimmermann (review of their Bach albums coming up).
One more strong point about most of these labels is that they do care about the sound quality of the recordings, which is not always guaranteed with the majors, who often tend to “over”-produce a recording.
Brahms’ Cello Sonatas
Brahms two cello sonatas were the first work of chamber music I ever owned by Brahms. I was lucky and started with a very nice version, with Leonard Rose on cello and Jean-Bernard Pommier on piano.
Since then, the cello sonatas have always been around, and I’ve constantly been on the lookout for the “perfect version”. On the way, I collected at least a dozen of versions, my most recent additions (both good) are Torleif Thédeen and Roland Pötinen on BIS and Ophelie Gaillard and Louis Schwizgebel-Wang on Aparté Music (note that both are independent labels…)
But to quote U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
Until now, at least for sonata no. 2.
Brahms Cello Sonatas – Marie-Elisabeth Hecker – Martin Heimchen (Alpha Classics 2016)
I had already started listening to this album briefly, as my streaming provider of choice, Qobuz, has a list of recommendations, where this album popped up.
Being the Brahms fan I am (see my blog title), I obviously went to check it out.
I was pleased by what I heard in the first two movements of sonata no. 1, but not blown away. Well played, but not so different from many other recordings I’ve heard. So I got distracted and never got to the end of the album. Big mistake.
The July issue of my favorite classical music magazine, Classica, just came out, and had the album as a “Choc”. Usually, our tastes match quite well, so I gave it another virtual spin on Qobuz.
And guess what, once I got to the F-major sonata, I was blown away. In spite of being the later of the two sonatas (by approximately 20 years), this one is the much more passionate one.
And here finally you get all the passion I’ve always been waiting for. Hecker (winner of the famous Rostropovich award in 2005) and Helmchen (Concours Clara Haskil 2001) just play with so much energy, it just sucks you in.
Therefore, sonata no. 2 is the true highlight of this album for me, while the search continues for the e-minor sonata.
My rating: 5 stars (worth it for the 2nd sonata!)