Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Sonata in d.
Sonata for Two Cellos in G.
Cello Sonata in b?
Marcy Rosen (vc); Frances Rowell (vc);
Lydia Artymiw (pn)
BRIDGE 9264 (74:39)
Often enough in the past, new recordings of the Brahms cello sonatas sent to me for review have elicited a plea that
cellists attend instead to the many other sonatas written for their instrument that have gone begging for performance—wonderful works from around the same time as Brahms and later, but still in full Romantic bloom. Here are three of them by three composers who come from very different backgrounds, and who, to the best of my knowledge, do not share any common bonds or connections.
The most interesting, perhaps because he is the least known, is the short-lived Ludwig Thuille (1861–1907). He was born in what is today the South Tyrolese city of Bolzano (then known as Bozen). Lying between the Italian Dolomites and the Austrian Tyrol, its culture has been described as “German organization with Italian elegance,” and indeed its first language is German. Thuille, orphaned as a child, was taken in by an Austrian uncle from Innsbruck; and it was there that Thuille met Richard Strauss in 1877, an encounter that led to a lifelong friendship. Encouraged by Strauss, Thuille moved to Munich, where he studied with Josef Rheinberger, and eventually became a professor of theory and composition at that city’s Akademie der Tonkunst. Among his many pupils were future conductor Hermann Abendroth and composers Richard Wetz, Walter Braunfels, and Ernest Bloch.
Thuille and the aforementioned Wetz, and the even lesser known Emanuel Moór (a Casals favorite) and Julius Röntgen—the latter two of whom wrote some of the most gorgeous chamber music you will ever hear (check out my Want List)—were not unacknowledged in their day, but quickly fell into the ranks of the nonentities. Thuille was, in fact, at one time considered second only to Richard Strauss as Germany’s leading opera composer after Wagner. His second opera,
, received its U.S. premiere at the Met in 1911, and was declared by some critics to be superior to Humperdinck’s
Hansel und Gretel
, with which it shared certain stylistic similarities. If Thuille is remembered at all today, it’s for a handful of skillfully crafted and melodically memorable chamber works, specifically two piano quintets and a sextet for winds and piano. His symphony in F Major, paired with his D-Major Piano Concerto, has been recorded and is available on the enterprising cpo label. Nor is this the only recording of the composer’s D-Minor Cello Sonata. A most curious ménage on Capitol Records with cellist Anthony Cooke places the Thuille in bed with a cello sonata by Esa-Pekka Salonen and three pieces for cello by Hindemith.
Thuille had to have been familiar with his mentor’s (Strauss’s) 1880–83 F-Major Cello Sonata when he penned this D-Minor Sonata in 1902. If you know the Strauss, you will feel right at home with the Thuille. In traditional three-movement form, and not atypical of late German Romantic works, the piece juxtaposes moments of great dramatic urgency with lyrical musings that hint at melody more through gestural suggestion than through direct statement of a tune you’re likely to sing in the shower. The pervasive dotted-rhythm theme that drives the last movement—almost more Brahmsian than Straussian—may be the one exception to the “won’t-remember-much-of-it-once-it’s-over” assessment. Thuille’s sonata is a magnificently written piece that will hold your attention while it’s playing; but being familiar with the composer’s earlier piano quintets and wind sextet, which take more from Schumann and Brahms than they do from Strauss, I’m not sure this cello sonata is necessarily the best place to start your exploration of Thuille’s once highly regarded musical talent.
The British Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875–1940) is a name you’re more likely to have encountered, though probably not as a composer. His claim to fame rests primarily on his reputation as music historian and musicologist, and on his analytical writings. He did, however, study composition with Hubert Parry, and became a close friend of the great violinist Joseph Joachim, whose quartet he joined as pianist in 1902 for a performance of Brahms’s Piano Quintet. As a composer—though he wrote a symphony, an opera (
The Bride of Dionysus
), a piano concerto, and a cello concerto for Pablo Casals—his success may have been hampered by self-imposition of his fairly conservative ideas on form and tonality on his own creative efforts.
Tovey’s Sonata in G Major for Two Cellos is certainly an unusual work in its instrumentation. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another such piece scored for two solo cellos sans piano accompaniment. Its provenance is explained by the booklet note, which tells us that Tovey wrote the piece in 1912 while vacationing as a houseguest of Casals at his summer home at Playa San Salvador on the Mediterranean coast. Among the great cellist’s other visitors was Guilhermina Suggia, 11 years Casals’s junior and one of his protégés. Tovey’s sonata gives both players a good workout, while demonstrating his own penchant for Bach-like counterpoint. The last movement, in particular, is an exhaustive, if not exhausting fugue that makes a fun, though longwinded proposition out of a bouncy subject in which Tovey obviously takes greater interest than might hold the attention of the average listener.
Ernst von Dohnányi (1877–1960) will undoubtedly be the best-known name in the present collection. And the more of his music I hear, the higher my regard for him becomes. A recent recording of his C-Major Sextet reviewed in a previous volume speaks of his generous melodic and harmonic bounty; and this early B?-Minor Cello Sonata, begun in 1899, only reinforces my growing admiration. Much indebted to Brahms, it’s a real beauty. Just listen to that dark, thrusting theme that opens the first movement. If it sounds familiar, it should. It’s a paraphrase of
Denn es gehet dem Menschen
, the first of Brahms’s
Vier ernste Gesänge
. Was it intentional or even conscious on Dohnányi’s part? Who can say? But the whole sonata evokes the spirit of the recently deceased Brahms. An editorial note: all references to the sonata on the CD’s back plate and in the accompanying booklet text designate it as being in B?-Major. I don’t have the score, but four other listings of the piece and my ears tell me the key is minor.
Honesty compels me to say that I’ve not heard any of the available alternatives. I can tell you, though, that Marcy Rosen and Lydia Artymiw turn in powerful accounts of the two cello-piano sonatas, and Frances Rowell is an accomplished partner to Rosen in Tovey’s two-cello sonata. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 22 by Ludwig Thuille
Lydia Artymiw (Piano),
Marcy Rosen (Cello)
Length: 27 Minutes 14 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Austria (1901 - 1902).
Sonata for 2 Cellos in G major by Donald Francis Tovey
Frances Rowell (Cello),
Marcy Rosen (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Length: 20 Minutes 44 Secs.
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