20/21 – Music for Cello and Piano from the 20th and 21st centuries
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata in D minor (1915) [11:07]
Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
Cello Sonata (1948) [22:08]
Andrew WAGGONER (b.1960)
Catenary, Memory Variations for cello and piano (2007) [11:17]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Après un Rêve [2:46]
Robert Burkhart (cello)
Blair McMillen (piano)
rec. February 2009, Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC
CENTAUR CRC 3004 [47:18]
Somewhat portentous disc title, really, but let’s not go to war about it. In effect it’s a two sonata disc with a novelty in the shape of Andrew Waggoner’s recent work which was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, the cellist Robert Burkhart who gives it its first recording.
Burkhart is quite a patrician and relatively reserved cellist as he demonstrates in the Debussy. He doesn’t cultivate particularly wide tonal resources and he doesn’t colour the sonata with the kind of devices that have now become commonplace. I’m thinking here in particular of the pizzicati in the Sérénade which he refuses to bend in a way redolent of the circus – as do some eminent contemporary players. Nevertheless French cellists on disc from Maréchal to Tortelier did like to bring a degree of caprice, without falling into vulgarity, and it’s here where Burkhart does rather lose focus in his performance. He and Blair McMillen are a good team, solid of ensemble, and they are dedicated exponents but the performance remains rather earthbound.
Carter’s 1948 sonata is an interesting work in that it is at once the last of the youthful Carter whilst also presaging the beginning of the composer who espoused metric modulation. These features are neatly balanced in his so-called ‘last tonal work’. Here Burkhart and McMillen demonstrate technical assurance and an awareness of the music’s vague recollections of Ives and sideways look at Copland. Burkhart is convincing in the expressive recitative that opens the Adagio, and both musicians take care to ease into the modulating flexibility of the writing. The busy, energetic finale is well conveyed.
Waggoner’s 2007 Catenary, Memory Variations for cello and piano derives its title from a series of Jasper Johns paintings. The piano writing is certainly demanding, and the writing embraces little mosaic-like themes as well as scherzo puckishness. It’s a good addition, and very well played. The Fauré piece starts rather impatiently but gradually relaxes nicely.
This is a well recorded but short-winded disc at only 47 minutes. The competition for the Debussy is colossal and that for the Carter is stiff as well.
Jonathan Woolf

Burkhart is quite a patrician and relatively reserved cellist ... see Full Review