Notes and Editorial Reviews
VIRTUOSO WORKS FOR SOLO CELLO
Wen-Sinn Yang (vc)
AVIE 2160 (79:47)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini.
Caprice in Chaconne Form on a Theme of Schumann,
Taiwanese-Swiss cellist Wen-Sinn Yang was born in Bern and is currently the principal cellist of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. With more than 20 recordings to his credit, success might seem to come easily to him, and hearing him confirms the assumption. He has been well treated in
, with Alan Swanson including his Arthaus DVD of the Bach cello suites on his 2008 Want List. This disc is a bold move also, as any solo recorded album proves to be. The works he picks are tough nuts all, ending with the gargantuan Kodály sonata, surely the greatest written after Bach, and keeping Britten just below the surface.
He also faces keen competition in Starker’s Delos recording, one of the glories of the catalog, a headlong assault to achieve greatness with one single swoop in this fierce repertoire. Looking at the album as a whole, there is a certain logic to the selections, even though the music is somewhat uneven (though never less than acceptable). Hans Bottermund (1892–1949) decided to grab the 24th Paganini caprice as so many other quite notable composers had done before him and fashion some variations on it. Starker discovered them in 1935 at a friend’s house and pronounced them essentially non-playable in current form. He made his own version and recorded them in the 1970s. They are not quite as dramatically coherent as some other versions, but they put the cello through its paces and prove quite the fireworks display in the end. Little is known about Bottermund aside from the fact that he taught in Frankfurt and was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic. He took part in a few recordings.
Julius Klengal (1859–1933) was Bottermund’s teacher, and also a native of Leipzig. He joined the Gewandhaus Orchestra at the tender age of 15(!) and became the chief cellist in 1881. His post at the Royal Conservatory of Music led him to churn out students and music, including four cello concertos, and two for two cellos. Schumann’s opening bars for his Second Violin Sonata (in D Minor) supply the theme for this unusual chaconne, originally 23 variations, but reduced to 14 by Wen-Sinn in this version.
readers need no introduction to world-famous violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931), whose performances of Bach wowed the world in all four corners. He composed six solo sonatas for violin and only one for cello, but it is a humdinger, displaying to the full the composer’s own abilities on the cello. The Ysaÿe connection through Gaspar Cassadó (1897–1966) is Pablo Casals, a good friend of Ysaÿe. Cassadó had a renowned career with luminaries like Rubinstein, Iturbi, and Menuhin, and was a noted teacher as well. His suite is based on the rhythms and melodies of his Catalonian nationality, and the results are clever and most affecting. In fact, I think that the pieces on this disc improve in quality as we progress through the tracks.
Which of course means that the Kodály—which also takes nearly half this recital—is the grandest of them all and its position as last only highlights this fact. Wen-Sinn gives it a rousing reading, and his tonal qualities and remarkably facile control of the contrapuntal activity inherent in this work are only illumined by the sterling sound that Avie provides for him, recorded at the Bavarian Radio studios. One cannot be without Starker in the music, of course, as his is a unique and especially authoritative voice considering his connections with the composer, aside from the fact that he brings a particularly sympathetic understanding to the idiom. But Wen-Sinn comes close, and has better sound to boot, plus gives us an additional four pieces of great interest and entertainment that makes the whole enterprise an easy sell and even easier purchase.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
Suite for Cello solo by Gaspar Cassadó
Wen-Sinn Yang (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1926; Spain
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