Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 (1914) [24:03]
Capriccio for Solo Cello (1915) [5:21]
Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8 (1915) [32:37]
Karine Georgian (cello); Marco Rizzi (violin)
rec. The Warehouse, London, 2000. DDD
ALTO ALC 1138 [62:04]
Even though these performances were recorded as long ago as 2000, they are being issued now for the first time. The two main pieces here are among the composer’s earliest and have become staples of the cello and cello/violin repertoire. Indeed, the Solo Cello Sonata has often been cited as the best of its kind since Bach’s Cello Suites. Kodály’s early works were instrumental and included solos, duos, trios, and quartets. He studied both piano and violin before taking up the cello and became quite an accomplished cellist. Thus, he demonstrated a real affinity for the instrument in these early compositions. Later he became best known for his choral and orchestral music.
Anthony Phillips in his notes to the CD cites the composer on the genesis of the Duo. Kodály was in Switzerland when World War I was declared and "unexpectedly conceived the inspiration for a duet" while there. He alluded to the impression of the high Alps and the forebodings of war as having influenced the Duo. Phillips sees this influence in the martial theme that erupts during the lyricism of the second movement beginning before the 2:00 mark. The work is cast in three movements with the first more or less in sonata form and the finale utilizing gypsy rhythms and folk-inspired material. The Duo provides plenty of opportunities for virtuosity in both the violin and cello parts and with contrapuntal development between the two sonorities. It receives a powerful performance that is so closely recorded as to become harsh at times. Marco Rizzi and Karine Georgian do not short-change the listener in the emotion of the piece, but can in their intensity push their tone almost over the edge. That they succeed in not doing so is to their credit.
The remainder of the disc is for cello alone. The short Capriccio is placed between the two major works and consists mainly of scale patterns and octaves. However, it is a real challenge for cellists in its virtuosity, even if it does not have much substance. The Solo Cello Sonata, on the other hand, is one of the greatest works for the instrument and the most often performed and recorded of the works on the disc.
From its famous opening theme, where Kodály has the cello employing scordatura - the cello is tuned a semitone down - giving the instrument an especially rich and deep timbre, to the dazzling finale that is like some wild Hungarian dance, the Sonata remains in one's head long after it has finished. It has received many recorded performances and Georgian's can certainly join the best of them. As in the Duo, she projects all the power and emotion that the work contains and is not afraid to produce an ugly sound when that is required. If I were to put forward just one recording of the these two masterworks appearing together, it would be Janos Starker's of the Sonata with Josef Gingold in the Duo on Delos. Theirs may be considered the benchmark in terms of the utter naturalness and beauty. Another superb recording of the Sonata that also contains three of Kodály's works for cello and piano is the EMI debut CD of the Korean cellist Sung-Won Yang with pianist Ick-Choo Moon. If you want all of the composer's works for cello, though, you will find them on two Naxos discs with Maria Kliegel as cellist. Georgian and Rizzi are in the same class and do complete justice to the works on the present disc.
Georgian and Rizzi do complete justice to Kodály.