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Kodaly: Cello Sonata, Sonatina, Epigrams / Clein, Drake

Kodaly / Clein / Drake
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67829  
Composer:  Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Natalie CleinJulius Drake
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Zoltán Kodály — even more than fellow composer-ethnomusicologist Bela Bartók — was a prime mover in twentieth-century Hungarian music at home, helping his countrymen both rediscover their folk roots and embrace modernity. Although not as radical as Bartók, Kodály wrote a Sonata for Solo Cello in 1915 that stands as one of the most powerful, ingenious works for the instrument after Bach and before Britten. Up-and-coming British cellist Natalie Clein plays this virtuosic Sonata with visceral beauty; she brings out its pungent folk character in the scordatura-fired, double-stopped harmonies, her polyphonic deftness making a lone cello ring out like zithers and a fiddle band. It would have been ideal to hear Read more Clein play Kodály's contemporaneous Duo for Violin and Cello, too. (For a gutsy take on that, see the Nigel Kennedy/Lynn Harrell EMI recording from 2000.) Still, Kodály's less visionary pieces for cello and piano that Clein adds are all attractive. They range from a youthful Romance Lyrique and an Adagio of Brahmsian melancholy to a Debussy-influenced Sonatina of the ’20s and nine melodic Epigrams from 1954. Julius Drake's subtle partnership is familiar from all his work accompanying singers, and the engineer captured Clein's rich tone without the microphones ever feeling too close.

-– Bradley Bambarger, Listen


KODÁLY Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8. Sonatina. 9 Epigrams. Romance lyrique. Adagio Natalie Clein (vc); Julius Drake (pn) HYPERION 67829 (68: 53)

Both Paul Ingram, reviewing Natalie Clein’s Elgar concerto with Vernon Handley and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on EMI in Fanfare 31:6, and Richard Kaplan, reviewing her Rachmaninoff Sonata with Charles Owen, also on EMI, in 30:6, found Clein’s performances somewhat under-characterized and “smallish” in scale. Similar reactions reported independently a year apart suggested that Clein, a doting British press aside, might not be England’s best hope for another Jacqueline du Pré. The now 33-year-old Clein came to prominence after winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 1994 performing the Elgar concerto. Three years later, she made her debut at the Proms in Haydn’s C-Major Cello Concerto led by Roger Norrington. Since then, she has been mainly active in chamber music, frequently joining the Belcea, Jerusalem, and Takács Quartets and the Nash Ensemble in performance. Her 2005 recording of the Brahms sonatas with Owen, available as an Australian import on EMI’s Classics for Pleasure label, never made it to Fanfare for review, but I have the disc myself and, while I’ve found it rewarding enough to hold onto, I wouldn’t rank it as a top contender.

All of the works on the present disc have had prior recordings; indeed, some, like the Sonata for Solo Cello, nearly three dozen, which, I suppose, should come as no surprise, considering the significant role the cello played in Kodály’s output. Moreover, recordings of all of these works have, at one time or another, been reviewed in these pages. The most important of them, reviewed by Barry Brenesal in 27:3, is a three-disc set on Hungaroton, featuring cellist Miklós Perényi playing all of Kodály’s works for cello and then some. As Brenesal points out, Hungaroton engaged in a bit of myth-making in reproducing a cover photo of an elderly Kodály appearing to coach the young Perényi at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest. The actual timeline of events makes this highly improbable. According to at least one biographical source, Kodály retired from his official teaching post at the academy in 1942. Perényi wasn’t born until 1948, and his cello instruction was initially entrusted to others on the faculty. Nonetheless, Kodály remained intensely dedicated his entire life to the musical education of children, and all students at the academy would have been exposed to his teaching methods. Therefore, it’s probably fair to say that among performing cellists today Perényi comes closest to preserving Kodály’s legacy.

When it comes to the solo cello sonata, in addition to the aforementioned Perényi, another strong competitor is the version by Nancy Green, reviewed as far back as 23:6 by Michael Jameson. Regular readers will know how taken I’ve been with Green’s playing, often citing her incomparable recording of the Brahms sonatas, and, coincidentally, reviewing her quite recent recording of Kodály’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 4, in 33:1.

Written in 1915, the sonata for unaccompanied cello is a large work in three movements and the composer’s most ambitious chamber work to date. Some commentators mention Debussy as an influence; Kodály had encountered the French composer’s music while studying in Paris two years earlier. But the present album’s note author, Calum MacDonald, does not cite Debussy in his analysis of the piece, and I would concur in the omission, for I don’t detect much, if any, Impressionist influence in this work. Bartók is never distant, and the Hungarian folk element is ever-present. Yet, despite Kodály’s use of scordatura tuning of the cello’s C string down to a B and the G string to an F? to make possible some unusual harmonies, the music readily betrays its deeply romantic roots. MacDonald reminds us that this is a wartime work, which gives “a tragic edge to the sense of prophetic utterance.” He also describes the first movement as majestic and passionate. The sonata is unquestionably one of Kodály’s finest works and no doubt one of the greatest and most technically demanding in its genre since Bach’s suites for solo cello.

Natalie Clein, I’m happy to report, has made significant strides since my last encounter with her on record. That, and the expertise of Hyperion’s engineer Arne Akselberg in capturing her “Simpson” Guadagnini cello in the Concert Hall at Wyastone Estate in Monmouth, Wales, contributes to a full-bodied, warm, and luxuriant tone that is anything but under-characterized or “smallish” in scale as referred to at the outset.

The Sonatina has a bit of a complicated history. Five years prior to composing the Sonata for Solo Cello, Kodály had written a three-movement sonata for cello and piano. But dissatisfied with the first movement, he withdrew it, allowing the work’s remaining two movements to be published as op. 4 in 1922, after making a last-ditch effort to provide a replacement first movement that he wasn’t happy with either. Though it’s not certain, it’s believed that the Sonatina is Kodály’s 1922 second attempt at a first movement for the op. 4 Sonata. It was published in 1969 in an edition by cellist/musicologist Lev Ginzburg.

The Nine Epigrams were written in 1954 and are among Kodály’s many pieces intended to demonstrate and promote the composer’s musical education method. The pieces were not specifically scored for cello, but were originally conceived as songs without words that could be hummed or easily adapted to any instrument.

Kodály was a teenager in 1898 when he wrote his four-and-a-half-minute Romance lyrique . MacDonald hears in its ardent lyricism the spirit of Brahms, Dohnányi, and Dvo?ák, but I did a double-take at the beginning of it, sure it was a takeoff on “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals.

The Adagio, though twice the length and dating from seven years later, is still very much in the sentimental salon style of the Romance lyrique.

Given past critical opinion by others as well my own encounters with Clein, I was not prepared to like this disc as much as I did. But with this release, I sense that she has blossomed into an exceptionally polished player and a highly sensitive, musically intelligent artist. Add to that magnificent music and a stunning recording, and you have an unconditional recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Cello solo, Op. 8 by Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Natalie Clein (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; Hungary 
Adagio for Violin/Viola/Cello and Piano by Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Natalie Clein (Cello), Julius Drake (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905; Hungary 
Sonatina for Cello and Piano by Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Natalie Clein (Cello), Julius Drake (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921-1922; Hungary 
Epigrams by Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Natalie Clein (Cello), Julius Drake (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; Hungary 
Romance lyrique for Cello and Piano by Zoltán Kodály
Performer:  Natalie Clein (Cello), Julius Drake (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1898; Hungary 

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