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David W Moore
American Record Guide, July 2010

Tsang’s arrangements for cello of Joachim’s arrangements for violin of the Hungarian Dances are effective and played with virtuosity. Here Tsang comes into his own, showing unerring intonation in numerous double-stops… The slow movement of Violin Sonata 3 is also impressive and well transcribed as well…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2010

Tsang debuted at the age of 11 with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, went on to take his B.A. degree from Harvard and his master’s of musical arts from Yale, picked up a number of coveted prizes along the way, and has since gone on to distinguish himself as a top cellist on the American concert stage…I had kind words for Tsang’s Beethoven sonatas in Fanfare 30:1, commenting on his solid technique, full-throated vibrant tone, and poised performances that spoke to long, careful, and loving preparation. But nothing in his Beethoven could have prepared me for his Brahms….His opening of the E-Minor Sonata took my breath away. It’s a bit on the slow side, even for the non troppo qualification Brahms tacked on to his Allegro marking, but the expressiveness of Tsang’s phrasing caresses the ears with such tenderness that at first it made me cry, and then it made me laugh. “Why laugh?” you wonder. Well, if you’re a Star Trek: TNG fan, you know about the highly sensitive Ferengi earlobes, which, when stroked with a technique called oo-mox, produces feelings of pleasure and contentment. I don’t mean to overlace this review with levity, but let’s just say that Tsang’s Brahms was oo-mox to my ears.

To his readings of the sonatas, Tsang brings a hyper-romantic sensibility. Some may find his not infrequent portamentos uncalled for, though personally, I find them well timed and appropriate, especially in the earlier E-Minor Sonata, the opening bars of which speak of such inconsolable sadness. But by the time Tsang reaches the sonata’s fiery finale, it’s clear that the slower tempo he adopted at the outset was a matter of choice, not necessity dictated by any technical inadequacy, for he presses forward to the finish line as fast as anyone else I’ve heard, and without a hint of strain.

In Tsang’s hands, the F-Major Sonata bursts forth with a lambency of startling radiance and passion. But I shouldn’t have come this far without mentioning Tsang’s partner, Anton Nel. Rarely have I heard the piano parts to these sonatas played so revealingly. Nel lays bare for the listener the interlocking plates, which, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle when joined together, disclose an extraordinarily detailed picture only hinted at by the individual tiles. Together Tsang and Nel present Brahms’s cello sonatas in readings that are not only gorgeously played, dramatic, urgent, and filled with thrilling romantic ardor, but that also expose with an almost clinical clarity Brahms’s profoundly classical compositional techniques. If those ends sound contradictory, I can only say that Tsang and Nel manage to find the common denominator in the seeming conflict that resolves it and renders it moot. For those who must know, first movement exposition repeats are taken in both sonatas.

There are two more contributors to the glory of these performances that must be acknowledged, and they are the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall and the uncredited recording team. I don’t think I’ve ever heard—no, I know I haven’t—a cello and piano duo sound this way on record. Both instruments soared from my speakers with such headroom and bloom that I could literally feel the ambient acoustic of the hall surrounding me, and this is not even a multichannel surround-sound CD. Truly amazing.

The two sonatas would have been gift enough, but in their largesse Tsang and Nel offer as an added bonus four of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances—Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5—and top that with an encore in the form of a transcription for cello of the Adagio from Brahms’s D-Minor Violin Sonata, op. 108…Bion and Anton are now my top recommendation for the Brahms cello sonatas.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, April 2010

Brahms’ two sonatas for cello and piano combine the right proportion of deeply romantic feeling and the technical wizardry required to bring it off to make them irresistible to performers and the musical public. Even more than the composer’s three violin sonatas, they have received an uncommon number of superlative performances over the years. Cellist Bion Tsang and pianist Anton do not let us down. Performing before a responsive live audience at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, they obviously draw energy from it and bring enough fire out of the music to have singed Johannes Brahms’ luxuriant beard.

We are struck immediately by the passionate intensity of the two subjects in the opening movement of the Sonata in E minor, Op. 38. Both are in the minor key, and provide Tsang the opportunity to demonstrate his big sound and trenchant rhythmic bite, over Nel’s seething accompaniment. As others have noted, this sonata journeys back in music history, from a perfectly worked out sonata form in the opening movement through an alert minuet with a smoothly flowing trio in the slow movement, and finally to a muscular fugal finale in which the music speeds up at the end to a dizzying coda that both players conclude with overwhelming force.

The opening movement of Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99, marked Allegro vivace, requires an enormous output of energy, especially from the cellist. Elsewhere, the fourmovement work often sublimates its powerful emotions under a perfect sonata-allegro form. Following its premiere at a private gathering in Vienna in 1886, Brahms’ onetime pupil and perceptive critic Elizabeth von Herzogenberg astutely observed, in words still relevant today: “it must be agitated without being hurried, legato in spite of its unrest and impetus.” Tsang and Nel have this quality of sublimated passion down perfectly, particularly in the slow movement, Adagio affetuoso, in which the cello progresses through a succession of some of the most deeply moving pizzicati known to man. From its heaven-storming opening movement and the immense lyrical beauty of the Adagio, the work proceeds to an impassioned scherzo in which the pianist must double the rapidly moving cello line legato in his right hand while the left plays a widely spaced accompaniment. Both players give the playfully skittish finale a rousing conclusion.

Encores? They are well deserved. After gracefully executed, bravura accounts of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances 1, 2, 4 and 5 based on the Joachim transcriptions for violin and piano, Tsang and Nel bring down the house with the glowing Adagio from Violin Sonata No. 3.

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