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Alban Gerhardt (cello)
Johann Sebastian BACH

Suite No. 5 in C minor for solo cello, BWV 1011 (c1720)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Suite No. 1 for solo cello, Op. 72 (1964)
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)

Sonata for solo cello, Op. 8 (1931)
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
Recorded May-June 2003, Tonstudio van Geest, Sandhausen

Let there be no mistake: Alban Gerhardt is a major talent, an artist whose concert platform presence transfers vividly to the recording studio. No programme of music for the cello could better illustrate his artistry than this combination of some of the most important solo cello works ever composed.

The chosen repertoire, Britten followed by Bach followed by Kodály, works supremely well as a musical sequence, so that one clear option for the listener is to begin at the beginning and take the performances as offered, in the nature of a recital. Once begun, the disc is hard to leave aside. There can be no higher recommendation, of course.

If there is a downside it is neither in the playing nor in the recording, but in the documentation. For the collector gaining some background about the music on offer is always a priority, and there is scant information to be found here. Rather the insert notes concern themselves with an extended interview with Gerhardt. While interesting enough in its own terms, this misses the point that for music lovers as for musicians themselves, it is the music that must come first. So anyone wanting hard information about the pieces by Kodály (most of all), Britten and Bach will have to search elsewhere.

Gerhardt’s technical command and sheer musicianship serve the three composers well. Britten composed his three Cello Suites for Mstislav Rostropovich, and he therefore took the commanding personality and technical accomplishment of the player as a fundamental principle. This new recording is blessed with admirably clear and well controlled sound, not too close, nor too remote, and the result is satisfying indeed.

The same might be said for the Bach Suite No. 5, in which the control of phrasing and tempi is exemplary. In the faster music there can be more bite and attack than Gerhardt chooses to employ, but that is a matter of judgement and his performance succeeds without reservation in articulating the music and its various aspects. The finest aspects are perhaps the most expressive ones: the opening Prelude and the beautifully shaped Sarabande.

Kodály’s Sonata lays claim to the accolade of the finest solo work for the instrument since Bach, so it is pleasing to find it included here. Again Gerhardt proves a sensitive and compelling advocate, and again his technical command is impressive. In the accompanying interview he explains his view of the music: ‘A highly emotional piece that you have to succumb to hook, line and sinker.’ And that is precisely the effect his performance achieves from the listener’s point of view.

Terry Barfoot

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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