Notes and Editorial Reviews
Impressive virtuosity … remarkable musicality.
This selection of Hungarian cello music from cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh spans a compositional period of a hundred years dating from 1874 to 1976. The disc comprises of nine works that range from Dohnányi’s challenging Cello Sonata to salon pieces from David Popper to the haunting sounds of Liszt’s Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Nonnenwerth Cloisters).
The opening score on the release is Béla Bartók’s First Rhapsody for cello and piano cast in two movements that he composed around 1928. This rugged and rather extraordinary music employs extensive elements of the folk melodies of Transylvania. Here Bartók is displayed
in a reasonably accessible light compared to the progressive nature of the innovative sonorities and driving rhythms found in many of his later scores, that many still find challenging today. In the first section marked Prima parte one is struck by the folk infused and often complex rhythms. The mainly vivacious Seconda parte is played by the duo as exciting foot-tapping, folk-dance music.
The score Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Nonnenwerth Cloisters) is Franz Liszt’s arrangement for cello and piano from the 1880s of his beautiful song of the same name (S.274) set to a Felix Lichnowsky text. Liszt also made arrangements of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth for solo piano and also for violin and piano. Formerly a Benedictine nunnery and a Franciscan convent Nonnenwerth is a small island in the Rhine where Liszt holidayed for three summers in 1841-43. Biographer Alan walker describes Liszt’s Nonnenwerth sanctuary: “A half-ruined convent, a chapel, and a few fishermen’s huts were now the only dwellings. The convent was run as a small hotel, but there were hardly any guests. It was an ideal summer retreat.” A
Liszt wrote comparatively few chamber scores and Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth is acknowledged as one of his finest in the genre. The interpretation of this impressive score convincingly communicates a sense of mystery and solitude in the safe haven that was Nonnenwerth. Kosower’s successful choice of tempi resists the temptation for an interpretation of sprawling languidness. In recordings of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth I remain an advocate of the beautifully shaped performance from Norman Fischer and Jeanne Kierman, from Houston in 2002, on Bridge Records 9187. Another engaging and sensitively performed interpretation of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth is from the duo of cellist Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough released in 1995 on RCA Victor Red Seal 09026 68290-2.
David Popper was one of the finest virtuoso cellists of his time and also a renowned teacher. He did write a considerable quantity of works, principally for the cello, including a number of arrangements and transcriptions of the works of other composers. The combination of cello and piano was Popper’s much preferred instrumentation. Popper is represented on the disc by two short works that suitably display the range and versatility of Kosower’s instrument.
Popper’s Mazurka was written around 1874 and is the last of three works in his Op. 11 set of pieces for cello and piano, a characterful display piece featuring the Polish dance. The Serenade, the second of Popper’s set of 5 Spanish Dances for cello and piano, Op. 54, is another virtuoso piece infused with the flavour of Spain.
An early work composed in 1905 Zoltán Kodály’s Adagio was originally scored for viola and piano. In the Adagio, a melancholic lament, the distinct influence of the late-Romantic world of Brahms predominates. I experienced little of the individuality of the progressive sound world of Kodály’s later works.
Ern? Dohnányi is also represented on the disc by two contrasting scores. The Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32d from 1923 was originally written as one of a set of seven pieces for solo piano. This is a fascinating and attractive score so infused with the marked influence of traditional Hungarian music.
Dohnányi’s formidable four movement Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 8 is an earlier work from 1899. Designed in the great late-Romantic tradition of Brahms the Sonata is an epic journey, bursting with thrills and spills along its course. The varying moods of the score aptly display the glorious timbre of Kosower’s cello with sturdy piano accompaniment by Jee-Won Oh.
The opening movement Allegro ma non troppo satiates with artistry containing a strong Hungarian flavour. In the brilliantly virtuosic Scherzo the listener encounters high voltage playing with a brief section of calm reflection providing a temporary respite and I enjoyed the soothing slow movement of a nocturnal feel. The extended closing movement is a theme and set of nine variations. Of a keen Brahmsian quality the score is varied in style containing a wealth of colours.
Miklós Rózsa is renowned as the prolific composer of over 100 Hollywood film scores, most notably for the score to the 1959 epic ‘Ben Hur’ starring Charlton Heston. It was in 1976 that Rózsa composed his Toccata capricciosa, Op. 36, a fantasy for Hungarian themes, for the eminent cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Scored for solo cello the work is cast in a single movement yet one can detect three distinct sections. This lively and richly virtuosic showpiece contains a hauntingly meditative central section and the score concludes with progressively frenzied and intense playing.
The gifted duo of Mark Kosower and Jee-Won Oh hardly put a foot wrong on this release demonstrating impressive virtuosity and remarkable musicality. I was struck by Kosower’s watertight technique and the tonal warmth of his cello. Recorded in the Beethovensaal in Hanover the Naxos engineers deliver first rate sound quality. Mark Kosower has found the time to write the interesting and informative essay in the booklet.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Rhapsody for Cello and Piano, Sz 88 by Béla Bartók
Mark Kosower (Cello),
Jee-Won Oh (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1928; Budapest, Hungary
Length: 10 Minutes 48 Secs.
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