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Dohnanyi, Kodaly, Strauss: Cello Sonatas / Nancy Green, Tannis Gibson

Release Date: 04/14/2009 
Label:  Jri Recordings (Formerly Jupiter)   Catalog #: 123   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ernö von DohnányiZoltán KodályRichard Strauss
Performer:  Nancy GreenTannis Gibson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DOHNÁNYI Cello Sonata in b?. KODÁLY Cello Sonata. R. STRAUSS Cello Sonata in F Nancy Green (vc); Tannis Gibson (pn) JRI 123 (71:20)

Ever since reviewing Nancy Green’s and Frederick Moyer’s JRI recording of the Brahms cello sonatas in my Fanfare debut (27:2), I’ve mentioned that disc several times as being something Read more quite out of the ordinary and my hands-down pick for the Brahms sonatas. Since then, the only other Green release to have come my way was a collection of cello and piano works by Ferdinand Ries with pianist Babette Hierholzer, (29:6) though a number of Green’s other CDs have been reviewed in these pages by other contributors. So, it was a special treat to receive her latest JRI disc, with Tannis Gibson at the keyboard.

To say that Green commands an incredibly voluminous and voluptuous tone is not hyperbole. The sound she makes and her style of playing remind me of no cellist more than the late Leonard Rose. No small credit, however, is due, as it was in the aforementioned Brahms disc, to JRI’s fantastic recording team that has placed the cello front and center, never allowing it to be swamped by the piano, yet at the same time lending the piano a palpable presence. Green plays a 1732 Paolo Antonio Testore cello, obviously with modern fittings. Gibson’s piano is a Steinway Model D concert grand. The recording was made in June and July of 2006 in New York’s Roseholm Studios. And to complete the package, the informative booklet notes are courtesy of Fanfare’ s James Reel.

The more of Ernö Dohnányi’s music I am exposed to, the higher my estimation of him as a composer rises. For those who wish Brahms had written a third cello sonata, Dohnányi’s early (1899) effort should fulfill the craving. Aside from the fact that it’s in B? Minor, a rather inconvenient key for string-players because it severely limits the use of open strings—the piece pretty much picks up where Brahms left off 13 years earlier with his F-Major Sonata. Dohnányi’s op. 8, written when he was he just 22, is a large, ambitious work, also in four movements like Brahms’s, but with a lengthy theme and variations last movement—longer than any of the three preceding it—that Dohnányi obviously intended to display his considerable compositional cunning. The cello has been lucky in the works written for it, for what may be lacking in quantity is compensated for in quality, and Dohnányi’s Sonata is surely a significant contributor to that equation. No wonder, then, that quite a few other cellists have committed it to disc. Up until the arrival of the JRI CD, my favorite performance was the one with cellist Marcy Rosen and pianist Lydia Artymiw on a Bridge CD I reviewed in 32:2. That disc is still a valuable acquisition for its inclusion of a rarely heard sonata by Ludwig Thuille and a sonata for two cellos by Donald Francis Tovey. But based on Nancy Green’s vibrant playing, Tannis Gibson’s powerhouse pianism, and a stunning recording, I’d have to opt for the new JRI if I could choose only one.

Hungarian composer (1882–1967) Zoltan Kodály also made an important contribution to the cello literature, several in fact, though it’s his 1915 Sonata for Solo Cello that has garnered more attention on disc than his 1910 two-movement op. 4 Sonata for Cello and Piano heard here. Still, the earlier work has seen its share of impressive recordings, among them one by János Starker for Philips and another by Miklós Perényi for Hungaroton. Kodály and Bartók are often mentioned almost as a hyphenated pair, much as are Debussy and Ravel, but as many differences separate them as similarities conjoin them. I very much liked Reel’s description of Kodály as the “gentler Hungarian nationalist,” altogether “far less percussive and determinedly dissonant” than Bartók. Kodály’s Sonata for Cello and Piano emulates Hungarian ethnic song and dance with “repetitive patterns, modal harmonies, and occasional use of drones in the cello,” but no actual folk tunes are employed as source material.

Richard Strauss’s 1883 F-Major Cello Sonata was written by a 19-year-old composer still enamored of Brahms, who was yet to embark upon the path that would lead to the major tone poems and operas for which he is celebrated today. The piece may just be one of Strauss’s best-kept secrets, for it’s an absolutely gorgeous work, which I described in 32:1 in a performance by cellist Johannes Moser, as an “extroverted, optimistic piece, filled with the strut and swagger of youthful confidence. Orchestrated, its opening measures might call to mind pre-echoes of Ein Heldenleben .” Moser has rapidly risen to the top ranks of the cello world; yet his recording of the Strauss strikes me as slightly more nuanced or perhaps sagacious than Green’s, the story being told as if by one who is looking back from a vantage point of the composer’s maturity. Green is—well, more green, but not in the negative connotation of the term. Rather, she plays the piece for what it is—the effusive, uninhibited prose of a young man searching for and about to discover his own unique voice. There is a guileless openness and innocence to Green’s reading that I really like.

Everything about this disc is first class: Three magnificent sonatas for cello and piano, two superb artists, and a crackerjack engineering team add up to one fantastic recording. Urgently recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Cello and Piano in B flat minor, Op. 8 by Ernö von Dohnányi
Performer:  Nancy Green (Cello), Tannis Gibson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899 
Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4 by Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Nancy Green (Cello), Tannis Gibson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909-1910; Hungary 
Sonata for Cello and Piano in F major, Op. 6 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Tannis Gibson (Piano), Nancy Green (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880-1883; Germany 

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