Irish cellist Ailbhe McDonagh and world renowned Beethoven specialist John O'Conor celebrated Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year with this double album of his complete sonatas for cello and piano recorded at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda, Ireland.
Beethoven's five sonatas for cello and piano span his entire compositional career.
O’Conor and McDonagh have a special rapport; their musical connection began when McDonagh studied piano with O’Conor at the age of 8. McDonagh gave her debut recital with O’Conor at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland.
“Out of several performances of the Beethoven A major sonata heard over 30 years, McDonagh’s was the most musically complete and satisfying.”
“O'Conor brought real poetry to his recital of late-period Beethoven ... incisive, even visionary projections that drove to the heart of the musical matter.”
“McDonagh and O’Conor seem highly attuned both to the music and to each other: their balance is flawless, and their pacing has a natural quality that makes it sound as if these works could not possibly be played at any other tempo. The performances on this two-CD set, recorded during the unfortunately much-diminished celebration last year of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, clearly show how much Beethoven still has to offer performers and listeners after two-and-a-half centuries.”
“Cellist Ailbhe McDonagh and pianist John O'Conor coalesce perfectly, as if propelled by the music's undertow, and echo each other's expressive mien with dynamic balance, as if holding a cordial conversation.”
Classical Music Sentinal
“McDonagh and O'Conor seem to me even more penetrative to Beethoven's deepest secrets...they take the opening of Op. 102/1 to whispered heights, and again later there is a most appealing sense of two-as-one. They also find buoyant, almost dancing, rhythms.”
“The duo being as one with every nuance in dynamics and tempi in outstanding performances...the sound is resonant and warm and the balance excellent.”
The Whole Note
“These two fine musicians work together with clarity and love for the music.”
American Record Guide
“I found myself listening with ever increasing pleasure to the playing of these two artists and to the richness of the recorded sound that captures them so well in the setting of St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda, Ireland.”
Beethoven: Complete Cello Sonatas / Ailbhe McDonagh, John O'Conor • STNS 30181
Recorded August 2 - 6 2020 at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda, Ireland.
Producer: Orla McDonagh
Engineer: Ben Rawlins
Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Piano: Steinway Model D # 544371
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Photograph of Ailbhe McDonagh: Marshall Light Studio
Photograph of John O’Conor: Hugh O’Conor
About the Artists
Irish cellist Ailbhe McDonagh is an international soloist, chamber musician and composer who performs throughout Europe, Asia and the USA. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the Royal Irish Academy of Music, she studied with world-renowned cellists Steven Doane, Nora Gilleese, Aisling Drury-Byrne and William Butt.
As a chamber musician, she performs in a duo, The McDonagh Sisters, with pianist Orla McDonagh. She is also a member of the Ficino Ensemble and the crossover traditional Irish music group Trio Elatha, where she plays traditional Irish music on the cello.
McDonagh is also an established composer with numerous compositions and commissions to her name. Boosey & Hawkes, London published two books of her piano music entitled “It’s a Piano Thing” and more recently “It’s a Cello Thing,” two books of her pedagogical pieces for cello. Further works for cello include a solo suite commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland and the title piece for her recent Skellig album for cello and piano. McDonagh has also been published by ABRSM, RIAM and Hal Leonard.
McDonagh joined the cello faculty of the RIAM in 2010 and she enjoys regular invitations to give masterclasses. Previous albums include It’s a Cello Thing (2012 CD of the week on RTE Lyric FM) and Skellig (2020 Irish Examiner, Top Picks of the Year). She performs on a Postacchini cello.
The Irish pianist John O'Conor has been gathering wonderful reviews for his masterly playing for over forty years. "A pianist of unbounding sensitivity" (Gramophone); "He represents a vanishing tradition that favors inner expression and atmosphere over showmanship and bravura" (Chicago Tribune); "Impeccable technique and musicality ... it would be hard to imagine better performances" (Sunday Times - London); "This artist has the kind of flawless touch that makes an audience gasp" (Washington Post); "Exquisite playing" (New York Times).
O’Conor studied in his native Dublin, in Vienna with Dieter Weber, and was tutored by the legendary Wilhelm Kempff. His unanimous 1st Prize at the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna in 1973 opened the door to a career that has brought him all around the world.
O’Conor’s recordings of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas led CD Review to say that he "by now should be recognized as the world's premier Beethoven interpreter" and his recent recordings of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra and Andreas Delfs have also been greeted with acclaim. He recently released three CDs on the Steinway & Sons label: Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and two volumes of Haydn Sonatas. He has also been featured on tonebase.com with videos on teaching and discussing Beethoven and Haydn Sonatas.
A Steinway Artist, O’Conor is Chair of the Piano Division at Shenandoah University in Virginia, Professor of Piano at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Distinguished Visiting Artist at the TU Dublin Conservatoire of Music and Visiting Professor at Showa University in Japan.
For his services to music O’Conor has been decorated "Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the French Government, awarded the "Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst" by the Austrian Government, the "Order of the Rising Sun" by the Emperor of Japan, and has received many other awards.
About Steinway & Sons label
The STEINWAY & SONS music label produces exceptional albums of solo piano music across all genres. The label — a division of STEINWAY & SONS, maker of the world’s finest pianos — is a perfect vessel for producing the finest quality recordings by some of the most talented pianists in the world.