Review of Bion Tsang's latest CD

Strings Magazine San Rafael, CA September 1, 2010

On Record

“I prefer recording in a live situation rather than in a studio,” cellist Bion Tsang says. “Music is a communicative art, and I thrive on that communication.”

What makes this recorded performance special is the freedom and spontaneity that only the interaction with a responsive audience can generate. The players, professors at the University of Texas at Austin, are longtime collaborators—their ensemble is so close they can let themselves be carried away by sheer enthusiasm.

Brahms has been said to act as a bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras, and these cello sonatas, Opp. 38 and 99, with their wide emotional range contained within a rigorous structural framework, are a good illustration. The first, written between 1862 and 1865, has the dark, melancholy introspection of autumnal maturity; the second, written 20 years later, has a bright, high-spirited, youthful exuberance.

The players make the most of all these attributes. Tsang adapts the color and intensity of his tone to the music’s mood and expression. The inwardness of the first sonata’s opening is particularly affecting, while that of the second fairly bursts with joyous impetuosity. Nel’s playing is distinguished by its textural clarity, which lets every line stand out. Tsang’s transcription of the Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dances shows off the cello—and the cellist—but one misses the brilliant violin sound. His playing is splendid, though so free that tempo and rhythm are almost lost; but his enjoyment is infectious. His transcription of the Adagio from the third violin sonata makes a beautiful encore.

By Edith Eisler

Read the full review... Also available in hard print in Issue 186 (October 2010)