Classical home listening: Hope Amid Tears; Taliesin’s Songbook

Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax give us tender Beethoven cello sonatas to treasure, and Ty Cerdd brings together Welsh songs old and new

Hope Amid Tears (Sony) is a wonderfully generous and probing recording of Beethoven’s cello sonatas and three sets of variations, by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax. This starry duo has made music together for decades (including these sonatas, which they recorded first time round in 1982 in a vigorous, but more straightforward manner). Their intimacy is always evident, in the balance and flow, in the equality of the musical partnership, in the willingness to take risks in Beethoven’s revolutionary silences and outbursts.

The title comes from the composer himself, who allegedly inscribed the best-known of the five sonatas - the exuberant No 3 in A Major, Op 69 - with the words “Inter lacrimas et luctum” (“amid tears and grief”). Recorded in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, last summer, these performances are exploratory, tender and conversational. Yo-Yo Ma brings boldness and individuality to every note, using slides between notes as needed; the attack vigorous, the lyricism poetic. Ax is the perfect partner, as heartfelt and eloquent as he is witty. A set to treasure.

• The fertile landscape of Welsh music is being nurtured by Tŷ Cerdd, the forum for promoting Welsh music past and present. Its latest album, Taliesin’s Songbook (Ty Cerdd), features a stylistic cross-section of songs in Welsh and English from the 20th and 21st centuries, by William Mathias, Mark Bowden, Gareth Glyn, Rhian Samuel and more. With Andrew Matthews-Owen as pianist on all but two tracks, the singers are first rank: sopranos Susan Bullock, Rebecca Evans, Elin Manahan Thomas and Natalya Romaniw; tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas and baritone Gareth Brynmor John, with harpist Catrin Finch. Among the highlights: impassioned songs from Arwel Hughes’s opera Menna, Grace Williams’s The Loom and Huw Watkins’s Auden setting, Eyes look into the well. Two songs by the tragically short-lived Morfydd Owen (1891-1918) stand out: melancholy and affecting, and beautifully sung by Romaniw.

• Watch this: Royal Academy Opera’s filmed production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, in a new edition by Bruce Wood, directed sharply by Jack Furness and led by the top lutenist (and dean of RAM students) Elizabeth Kenny. Free on YouTube for a year.

Watch Royal Academy Opera’s Dido and Aeneas

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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