Virtuoso – Works for Solo Cello
Hans BOTTERMUND (1892-1949)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini [6:10]
Julius KLENGEL (1859-1933)
Caprice in the form of a Chaconne (on a theme by Robert Schumann) – (c.1905) abridged and edited by Wen-Sinn Yang [10:09]
Eugčne YSAźE (1858-1931)
Sonata for solo cello (1917) [14:09]
Gaspar CASSADÓ (1897-1966)
Suite for Cello (1925) [15:09]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Sonata for solo cello Op.8 (1915) [34:10]
Wen-Sinn Yang (cello)
rec. April and May 2009, Studio 2, Bavarian Radio
AVIE AV2160 [79:47]

This is a disc that centres on the great triumvirate of solo cello works inaugurated by Ysa˙e’s sonata in 1915, then reaching a peak with Kodály’s own work in the genre, and continuing on a lesser plane with Cassadó’s sumptuously enticing 1925 Suite. To this trio Wen-Sinn Yang has added two works that sit on the very periphery of the repertoire – by executant-composers Bottermund and Klengel.

It might be instructive to start with the former’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini. Bottermund was, fortuitously a pupil of Klengel, and also of Hugo Becker, so his German lineage was formidable. He was a cellist in the Berlin Philharmonic and made recordings on 78. His variations – undated – make profoundly difficult demands on the soloist and in Janos Starker’s edition – this whole recital bears the Starker stamp – these are clarified. The lexicon of technical difficulties involves a wrist-crunching avalanche, demanding clarity of shifting, exact intonation, not least in the harmonics, control of pizzicato, a steady rhythm, and an immensely tough coda. All this and the Albéniz-inclined intimations of the harmonies in the sixth variation. By comparison his erstwhile teacher’s own opus, which was dedicated to Suggia, is more a test of technical and expressive qualities. The theme utilised is from the opening of Schumann’s D minor Violin Sonata but one should note that this is Wen-Sinn Yang’s own edition in which he has truncated the variations from twenty three to fourteen and re-ordered them. He has constructed a more compact, probably more malleable and maybe graver effect.

Ysa˙e’s Sonata is notable in this performance for the way in which Yang keeps the melodic line moving in the central movement with its drone features adeptly brought out. Its Bachian ethos is honoured, so too however the more menacing intimations of the finale as well as its more reverent-reflective episodes. Cassadó’s Suite is more of a fantasia in comparison with the Ysa˙e. Its more externalised Iberian effusions are well pointed here, the sense of registral colour and voicings being acutely deployed in the Sardana, the tipsy Spanishry of the finale equally well caught. I’ve heard more combustible performances (Starker himself has recorded it) but this is an authoritative one nevertheless. Few can match Starker in the Kodály. Tortelier for instance takes a different kind of view, though one that is strongly to be respected. But both are significantly faster than Yang who is especially extended in the slow movement. Here he plays with great feeling but at a real cost to the melodic line. I even feel his tempo for the first movement is too relaxed. The result is that rhythms slacken and the work’s structure tends to wilt.

He does have one distinct advantage over many who essay this music and that’s the excellently judged acoustic in Bavarian Radio’s Studio 2. Overall this is a well constructed programme mixing canonic and deeply serious works with more frivolous virtuoso-orientated finger-busters.

Jonathan Woolf

A well constructed programme mixing canonic and deeply serious works with more frivolous virtuoso-orientated finger-busters.