Sunday 21 April 2013

Works by Liszt, Dohńanyi and Kodály fabulously played by Raphael Wallfisch and John York on a new release from Nimbus

In September 2012 I reviewed a recording on Nimbus by Raphael Wallfisch  and John York of Cello Sonatas by Delius and Grieg.  I noted what a wonderful partnership Wallfisch and York make, instinctively weaving the sound around each other in wonderfully nuanced performances .

Again from Nimbus comes a two CD release from these two fine musicians featuring works by Liszt, Dohńanyi and Kodály. 
NI 5901/2
 didn’t even realise that Franz Liszt (1811-1886) had written specific music for cello and piano so this new release came as a particularly welcome surprise. Liszt’s Premiere Élegié S.130 (1874) was written in memory of Marie Moukhanoff-Kalergis (1822-1874) who had been his patron. After anguished opening phrases for both cello and piano the music settles to a gently elegiac melody, though becoming more passionate part way through.  Zweite elegie S.131 (1877) is constructed from the simplest material yet Liszt creates such a lovely work. There is an attractive piano part for John York and some passionate playing from Raphael Wallfisch, as well as some sensitive, hushed moments, exquisitely played.
Liszt’s Romance oubliée S.132 (1880) is taken from an earlier song and reworked both as a piano piece and for cello and piano. The cello alone opens in a little ascending motif before being joined by the piano to develop the theme. There is a simple but effective section that rises to a short climax to be followed by a passage for solo cello before quietening. There is some beautifully intimate playing as the work draws to a close.

La lugubre gondola S.134 (1882-85) was written as a piano piece whilst Liszt was staying with Wagner at the Villa Vendramin in Venice. This desolate work, inspired by the sight of funeral godolas, seems to anticipate the death of the ailing Wagner in 1883. In this version for cello and piano, a three note motif for piano opens the piece before the cello joins to work out the theme. This three note motif is repeated on the piano with the cello joining in, twice more before the theme is broadened, as both players move the music forward, slowly, in a gentle rocking rhythm in this substantial, elegiac piece, full of shifting tonality.

Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth S.382 (c.1883) is also developed from an earlier song and opens with a tolling piano before the cello joins in a reflective evocation of the Benedictine Abbey on the island of Nonnenwerth where Liszt stayed with Countess Marie d’Agoult (1805-1876), one of Liszt’s early loves. Liszt seems to be looking back wistfully and nostalgically. Both players find so much in this piece – sensitivity, passion and melancholy. Liszt’s Consolations – Six Pensées poétiques S.172 (1844-49) were transcribed for cello and piano from the original piano works by the Belgium cellist, Jules de Swert (1843-1891) much to the approval of the composer. There is a lovely little andante con moto with a great little melody followed by Stern. Quasi adagio, in which Raphael Wallfisch reveals some lovely sounds from his cello. The mood brightens in the gentle third piece, Un poco più moto, where Wallfisch and York show the remarkable musical rapport they have with each other. The Lento placido receives an exquisite performance from these players, whilst the sunny Andantino leads to straight into the final Allegretto sempre cantabile, a perfectly conceived performance, with rich toned playing from Wallfisch and lovely full playing from York.

O du mein holder Abendstern (Recitativ and Romance from Wagner’s Tannhäuser) was reconstructed by Leslie Howard from fragments of this earlier arrangement by Liszt of one of the most beautiful of Wagner’s arias played beautifully by this duo.

Erńo Dohńanyi (1877-1960) is probably best known for his Variations on a Nursery Tune (Variationen über ein Kinderlied) for piano and orchestra, Op. 25 (1914) yet he wrote so much more including operas, choral works, three symphonies including the early unnumbered Symphony in F, two violin concertos, two piano concertos, orchestral works including his Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32b (1924), chamber works and piano works including the original version of Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32a (1923).

Dohńanyi’s Sonata in B flat major Op.8 (1899) is an early work which, in the opening Allegro, ma no troppo, has a quiet introduction for both players before the allegro appears in a passionately written melody. There is terrific playing from Wallfisch and York in this virtuosic piece. What a fine duo they are in this full blooded romantic allegro, full of fire and rhythm. This is a Brahmsian work, particularly in the piano part. A fleet of foot Scherzo. Vivace Assai with rapid cello bowing and a scintillating piano part simply dashes along, almost Mendelssohnian in its lightness and character, until the trio section which becomes more serious. The relatively short Adagio non troppo brings a lovely melody with, yet again, a Brahmsian piano part, leading straight into the Teme con Variazioni, the later variations being taken from themes from earlier movements.

Wallfisch and York play this Sonata marvellously ensuring that, despite its derivations, it is an immensely enjoyable work.

Dohńanyi made a number of arrangements of his original piano version of Ruralia Hungarica including this one for cello and piano and numbered as Op.32d (1924). Marked Andante rubato, alla zingaresca, this is a beautiful melody affectingly played by these artists.

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) tends to be remembered mainly for the orchestral suite from his opera Háry János (1926), his Variations on a Hungarian Folksong Fölszállott a páva (The Peacock) (1939), usually just referred to as the Peacock Variations and his Psalmus Hungaricus, Op. 13 (1923). Yet he also wrote much else including one other opera Székelyfonó (The Spinning Room), choral works, orchestral works including a Concerto for Orchestra (1939–1940) and a Symphony (1930s–1961) and chamber and instrumental works of which his two movement Sonata Op.4 (1909-10) for cello and piano is recorded here.

The Fantasia. Adagio di molto opens with a rich theme on the lower register of the cello before the piano slowly enters. After ruminating on this material, a folk like theme appears, very Hungarian. There are some virtuosic passages for both players before the music quietens and slows for a hushed end. The allegro con spirito-molto adagio has a lightly sprung theme that soon gathers pace with some wonderful touches for the cello and piano. Wallfisch and York are terrific in this rapidly changing movement with sudden outbursts.

The Sonatina (1921-22) is taken from the projected third movement of Kodály’s Sonata Op.4. Marked Lento-Tempo principile, there are some lovely passages for the piano, beautifully played by John York, before the cello joins in a theme that has much of an outdoors feeling. There are some lovely cello timbres before a wistful melody appears that develops to a more passionate theme.

Kodály’s Adagio (1910) has a long flowing melody for cello with the piano providing a gentle underlying layer. The music has a dignity that seems to keep it from becoming emotional. It is the piano that often lifts this work, providing a beautiful accompaniment to the cello line.

These are some very fine works fabulously played by Raphael Wallfisch and John York. The recording from Nimbus’ Wyastone Leys venue in Monmouth is clear and detailed and there are excellent notes by John York. I hope we soon have more from this terrific duo.

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