Central Europe – Works for Cello and Piano
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Arpeggione Sonata in A minor for cello and piano, D.821 (1824) [24:56]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Klid (Silent Woods), D.173 (1891) [5:10]
Rondo, D.171 (1891) [7:01]
LeoŠ JANÁčEK (1854–1928)
Pohádka, JW 7/5 (1907/10, rev. 1912/13, rev. 1923) [11:46]
Presto, JW 7/6 (1910) [2:31]
Bohuslav MARTINů (1890-1959)
Variations on a Slovak Theme (1959) [9:07]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Romanian Dances (arr. Z. Székely/A. Mital) [5:35]
Adam Mital (cello), Olimpia Tolan (piano)
rec. 21-23 September 2009, Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland
SOLO MUSICA SM 153 [66:09]

Cellist Adam Mital has always wanted to record this programme and explains in the notes how he is, “Fascinated by their tonal language, which was greatly influenced by the folk songs of their respective countries.” This recording of highly accessible music takes the listener on a Central European journey from Schubert’s Vienna to Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and oneward to Transylvania.

Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata was written for the now obsolete arpeggione – an instrument that enjoyed a brief vogue for a decade or so after its invention around 1823. With six strings the arpeggione was similar in shape, tuned and fretted like a guitar. It was played between the knees with a bow like a cello. In the lengthy opening movement Mital coveys a generally sad and yearning reflective quality. This is varied with several brisk, blithe dance-like moments. Lyrically passionate and suffused with a predominantly gentle, pining quality the central Adagio could easily depict the enforced separation of two lovers. The finale is highly melodic and poetic with a folk-like feel. It is interspersed with contrasting passages of carefree abandon.

I have fond memories of the scores Klid and the Rondo on a vinyl Supraphon recording from Prague in the late 1970s by cellist MiloŠ Sádlo with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Václav Neumann. Klid was originally scored for piano four hands in 1883/84. There is a version for cello and orchestra from 1893. On this recording the arrangement for cello and piano was prepared in 1891. It is a reflective and sorrowful score where Mital and Tolan paint a glorious twilight scene that convincingly evokes the sights and sounds of Bohemian woodland. The Rondo in G minor for cello and piano was composed in 1891. Another version of the Rondo for cello and orchestra was prepared two years later. In this rocking and melodic Rondo I loved the way the partners underline the Slavic folk-dance quality in the writing.

Janáček wrote two scores for the cello and piano. Cast in three movements Pohádka (Fairy Tale) was composed in 1907/10 with revisions undertaken in 1912/13 and 1923. The inspiration was Andreyevich Zhukovky’s epic Russian poem The Tale of Tsar Berendyey, and his son Tsarevich Ivan and the cunning of the immortal Koshchey and the wisdom of Marya from 1831. Pohádka is in effect a Cello Sonata comprising numerous brief and swiftly shifting melodic and rhythmic ideas. Serving as a celebration of the Slav fairy tale the players convey an intensely expressive quality. Mital’s elegiac playing in the opening Con Moto is followed by a central Con Moto that convincingly cascades in a raindrop effect. I loved the ardent playing in the restless final movement Allegro. Janáček’s Presto, an earlier score was composed in 1910 and also shows its Slavonic and Moravian folk lineage. A short work with a vigorous pounding quality in the outer sections the Presto contains a soft central section of rather anxious pleading character.

Martinů has an expanding army of admirers but I’m not sure this regard is yet reflected in the number of performances in the concert hall. A prolific composer he loved the cello and composed in excess of thirty scores featuring the instrument. H e was extremely active in the field of chamber music and his Variations on a Slovak Theme is a late work composed in 1959 the year of his death. The Slovak theme has a yearning quality with an authentic sense of nostalgia. The diverse and engaging set of six brief variations commences with an elegant Moderato containing a curious nose-in-the-air quality. Marked Poco Allegro I especially enjoyed the syncopated second variation and the highly rhythmic fourth, a Scherzo, Allegro is also splendidly done.

Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances were first heard as a suite of six short piano pieces. There is an orchestration by the composer from 1917 for small ensemble and others have made a variety of editions. This arrangement for cello and piano has been prepared by Adam Mital from Zoltán Székely’s transcription for violin and piano. At only five and half minutes the Romanian Folk Dances is more than a mere trifle and contains music of real appeal. Playing with considerable freedom Mital and Tonal let their hair down for this suite. A highly melodic and stately dance titled Jocul cu bâta (Stick Dance) opens proceedings. The foot-tapping Brâul (Sash Dance) is extremely brief at twenty-nine seconds. I found Pe loc (In One Spot) to be the most intriguing. Cast in the high registers the writing deploys an eerie whistling representing a shepherd’s flute. Serving as a contrast in the Buciumeana (Horn Dance) Mital brings out the haunting Romantic theme. At a mere thirty-four seconds Poarga Româneasca (Romanian Polka) is a very short and lively swaying Polka. It precedes the concluding Maruntel (Fast Dance) which is given a briskly extrovert rendition.

Recorded at the radio studios in Zurich in 2009 the sound quality is of a decent standard being well balanced and clear if rather airless. In truth the piano, a Steinway, was caught a touch bright for my liking. I enjoyed the real sense of a live performance with the sound so vivid one could imagine being sat next to the players. Right from the opening measures I just loved the timbre of Mital’s cello which he informs me is an unnamed instrument that he thinks is probably French. There is much to enjoy in these excellent performances which are spirited with a refreshing ardour and an engaging sensitivity.

Michael Cookson

Much to enjoy: excellent spirited performances with refreshing ardour and engaging sensitivity.