Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 (extracts) Maiden in the bridal chamber, Dogberry and Verges, Garden scene & Masquerade [14:19]
Josef MARX (1882-1964) Pastorale for Cello and Piano [6:54]
Paul BADURA-SKODA (b. 1927) Elegie for Piano [5:55]
Stefan ESSER (b. 1966) Sonata for Cello and Piano [18:09]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987) El pont [10:05]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Cello Sonata [13:51]
Michael Schlechtriem (cello); Noriko Kitano (piano)
rec. Rudolf-Oetker-Halle, Bielefeld, Germany, 6 April 2004, 4-5 January 2009. DDD
Esser and Mompou - world premiere recordings
GENUIN GEN89529 [69:21]
This is a satisfying and freshly conceived anthology. Although the composer’s dates of birth vary between 1862 for Delius and 1966 for Stefan Esser the style has a degree of homogeneity that will please or disappoint uniformly.
The Korngold is familiar territory. It is well enough known both as a suite and in movement excerpts. The Willy Mattes-EMI recording was snapped out in the first Korngold vinyl renaissance of the 1970s. It's a real character gallery with grotesquerie and touching and achingly romantic writing (in the Garden Scene) very nicely put across in both the original (1920) and in Schlechtriem's 1985 transcription. The music is quirkily determined in the Holzapfel und Schlehwein movement. I can see the transcription carrying the Korngold evangel out among the ranks of the world’s cellists.
Marx and Korngold have shared the same CD before (their piano concertos on Hyperion). Marx’s Pastorale is a smooth 1914 essay in equivocal expressionist sunsets: warm, rounded and lambent with an imaginatively Klimtian piano part. Stefan Esser, who also provides the notes, tells us that Pastorale parallels Marx's Idylle for orchestra (1925).
Badura-Skoda is well known as a pianist and Schubert and Mozart exponent. His Elegie for solo piano was born out of the pianist's loss of his mother and other tragic events in the 1970s. It is angular-impressionist-dreamy seeming to describe trauma and constantly stirring the depths of the psyche. Its presence is supported by a commentary by the composer.
Leverkusen-born Esser's Cello Sonata is in three movements across 18 minutes - a work of the 1990s. You might recall Esser's name as he is the musician who so idiomatically orchestrated two works for Chandos's Marx collection in 2009. He was Schlechtriem's accompanist for several years from 1985. The Sonata is another work rife with the singing melancholy that emerges so aptly from the soul of the cello. There are serial aspects to the music but no more extreme than those you encounter in Frank Bridge's works of the 1920s and 1930s. The passionate shudders of the finale give way to the dominant and confidently singing melancholy that overarches the Sonata. The Sonata was premiered in Esser's birthplace in 1997. It's a powerful piece and one that makes me want to hear Esser's orchestral work Sarnia and his Saxophone Concerto.
Mompou's El Pont is of a piece with the Esser although it differs in the obsessive use of piano figures which establish atmosphere and underpin the long singing line of the cello and its remarkable sweet mewling sounds at 3:30. The work was written in 1977 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Pau Casals. Mompou was born in Barcelona into a musically sympathetic family. There were spells in Paris in 1911 and 1921. El Pont is a version of the similarly named piece in his famous sequence Musica Callada. I do hope that some day we will have a recording of the 1963 oratorio Los Improperios.
Then as if by a quite natural evolution we come to Delius's 1916 Cello Sonata written for that Queen of the Nightingales, Beatrice Harrison. This single movement structure here flows with more burred muscularity than usual. The crowing return of the work's great tune at the close is satisfyingly weighted and paced though I am not sufficiently wooed to abandon Julian Lloyd Webber's ASV version. Heresy, I know, but this sonata would also work superbly as a compact concerto if some angelic heretic were permitted to orchestrate the piece.
This is a cherishable anthology in which artists and company courageously kick over the accepted wisdoms of anthology construction and leave us with one unfamiliar work after another. The choice is exemplary and the results rewarding and well presented.
This duo really should tackle John Foulds’ eloquent Cello Sonata. It would play to their grand strengths which are in undeniable engagement here.
Rob Barnett

I am grateful to the conductor John McLaughlin WIlliams for pointing out that Michael Schlechtriem has been the soloist in a concert outing for the Korngold Cello Concerto. Private recordings of that event are circulating via the internet. John praises Schlechtriem's performance.
Grand strengths in a freshly conceived collection ... see Full Review