This selection of Hungarian cello music from cellist Mark
Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh spans
a compositional period of a hundred years dating from 1874 to
1976. The disc comprises of nine works that range from Dohnányi’s
challenging Cello Sonata to salon pieces from David Popper
to the haunting sounds of Liszt’s Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth
(The Nonnenwerth Cloisters).
opening score on the release is Béla Bartók’s First Rhapsody
for cello and piano cast in two movements that he composed
around 1928. This rugged and rather extraordinary music employs
extensive elements of the folk melodies of Transylvania. Here
Bartók is displayed in a reasonably accessible light compared
to the progressive nature of the innovative sonorities and driving
rhythms found in many of his later scores, that many still find
challenging today. In the first section marked Prima parte
one is struck by the folk infused and often complex rhythms.
The mainly vivacious Seconda parte is played by the duo
as exciting foot-tapping, folk-dance music.
score Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Nonnenwerth Cloisters)
is Franz Liszt’s arrangement for cello and piano from the
1880s of his beautiful song of the same name (S.274) set to
a Felix Lichnowsky text. Liszt also made arrangements of Die
Zelle in Nonnenwerth for solo piano and also for violin
and piano. Formerly a Benedictine nunnery and a Franciscan convent
Nonnenwerth is a small island in the Rhine where Liszt holidayed
for three summers in 1841-43. Biographer Alan walker describes
Liszt’s Nonnenwerth sanctuary: “A half-ruined convent, a
chapel, and a few fishermen’s huts were now the only dwellings.
The convent was run as a small hotel, but there were hardly
any guests. It was an ideal summer retreat.” A
wrote comparatively few chamber scores and Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth
is acknowledged as one of his finest in the genre. The interpretation
of this impressive score convincingly communicates a sense of
mystery and solitude in the safe haven that was Nonnenwerth.
Kosower’s successful choice of tempi resists the temptation
for an interpretation of sprawling languidness. In recordings
of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth I remain an advocate of the
beautifully shaped performance from Norman Fischer and Jeanne
Kierman, from Houston in 2002, on Bridge Records 9187. Another
engaging and sensitively performed interpretation of Die
Zelle in Nonnenwerth is from the duo of cellist Steven Isserlis
and Stephen Hough released in 1995 on RCA Victor Red Seal 09026
Popper was one of the finest virtuoso cellists of his time and
also a renowned teacher. He did write a considerable quantity
of works, principally for the cello, including a number of arrangements
and transcriptions of the works of other composers. The combination
of cello and piano was Popper’s much preferred instrumentation.
Popper is represented on the disc by two short works that suitably
display the range and versatility of Kosower’s instrument.
Mazurka was written around 1874 and is the last of three
works in his Op. 11 set of pieces for cello and piano, a characterful
display piece featuring the Polish dance. The Serenade,
the second of Popper’s set of 5 Spanish Dances for cello
and piano, Op. 54, is another virtuoso piece infused with the
flavour of Spain.
early work composed in 1905 Zoltán Kodály’s Adagio was
originally scored for viola and piano. In the Adagio,
a melancholic lament, the distinct influence of the late-Romantic
world of Brahms predominates. I experienced little of the individuality
of the progressive sound world of Kodály’s later works.
Dohnányi is also represented on the disc by two contrasting
scores. The Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32d from 1923 was originally
written as one of a set of seven pieces for solo piano. This
is a fascinating and attractive score so infused with the marked
influence of traditional Hungarian music.
formidable four movement Sonata in B flat minor, Op.
8 is an earlier work from 1899. Designed in the great late-Romantic
tradition of Brahms the Sonata is an epic journey, bursting
with thrills and spills along its course. The varying moods of the score aptly display the glorious
timbre of Kosower’s cello with
sturdy piano accompaniment by Jee-Won Oh.
opening movement Allegro ma non troppo satiates with
artistry containing a strong Hungarian flavour. In the brilliantly
virtuosic Scherzo the listener encounters high voltage
playing with a brief section of calm reflection providing a
temporary respite and I enjoyed the soothing slow movement of
a nocturnal feel. The extended closing movement is a theme and
set of nine variations. Of a keen Brahmsian quality the score
is varied in style containing a wealth of colours.
Rózsa is renowned as the prolific composer of over 100 Hollywood
film scores, most notably for the score to the 1959 epic ‘Ben
Hur’ starring Charlton Heston. It was in 1976 that
Rózsa composed his Toccata
capricciosa, Op. 36, a fantasy for Hungarian themes, for the eminent
cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Scored
for solo cello the work is cast in a single movement yet one
can detect three distinct sections. This lively and richly virtuosic
showpiece contains a hauntingly meditative central section and
the score concludes with progressively frenzied and intense
The gifted duo of Mark Kosower and Jee-Won Oh hardly put a foot wrong on this release demonstrating
impressive virtuosity and remarkable musicality. I was struck
by Kosower’s watertight technique and the tonal warmth of
his cello. Recorded
in the Beethovensaal in
Hanover the Naxos engineers deliver first rate sound quality. Mark Kosower has found
the time to write the interesting and informative essay in the
AFranz Liszt (Volume 1), ‘The Virtuoso
Years 1811-1847’ by Alan Walker, Publisher:
Cornell University Press (1983, revised edition 1987) ISBN 0-8014-9421-4.