Zoltan KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Sonata for solo cello, op. 8 (1915) [32:52]
Sonata for cello and piano, op. 4 (1910) [17:52]
Duo for violin and cello, op. 7 (1914) [25:31]
Lionel Handy (cello), Thelma Handy (violin), Nigel Clayton (piano)
rec. March 2010, PATS studio, University of Surrey (op. 4 and op.7); May 2010, St. Andrews Church, Toddington (op. 8). DDD

Bach’s six Suites for unaccompanied cello form the basis of the cello repertoire, the equivalent to the Old Testament for cellists. The solo cello repertoire languished somewhat in the nineteenth century, but in the century following quite a number of composers wrote works for the instrument, including Ernest Bloch, Benjamin Britten, Gaspar Cassadó, Paul Hindemith, Aram Khachaturian, and Sergei Prokofiev. The work most likely to be regarded as the New Testament, however, is the Sonata for solo cello by Zoltan Kodály.

Kodály completed this work in early 1915, during a period of intense research into Hungarian folk music, in which he collaborated with Bela Bartók. Hungarian themes had been used in classical compositions before, notably by Haydn, Brahms and Liszt. The material they had used, however, was a pseudo-folk urban “gypsy” style revolving around the alternately fiery and sentimental czárdás. Kodály and Bartók discovered and recorded authentic material that was a lot more raw and fiery. Kodály taught himself the cello in his teens, so the solo Sonata also drew on his inside knowledge of the instrument. The Sonata for solo cello combines the volatile folk-based material with highly virtuosic cello writing in a work that is a classic in the modern cello repertoire.

Lionel Handy has studied with Janos Starker and Pierre Fournier, and for ten years was principal cellist with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. This performance of Kodaly’s op. 8 Sonata shows him to be a well organised player who enters wholeheartedly into the composer’s passionate idiom. From the declamatory opening the first movement moves through many highly contrasted episodes. Handy brings out the question-and-answer writing well, and lower strings of his instrument have a rich resonance. The Adagio has an impressive eloquence and the left hand pizzicato is very well done, as was the alternation of pizzicato and arco in the extremely difficult finale. Handy’s assurance, both technical and interpretive, is most impressive.

Kodaly’s early Sonata for cello and piano dates from 1909, and is a rather more accessible work than the solo sonata. The influence of Debussy shows in the piano part, and in the use of short motifs and rather elliptical phrasing, particularly in the second movement. The sonata for cello and piano by Shostakovich also comes to mind, although that was not composed until 1934. Handy and pianist Nigel Clayton give an accomplished performance of this sonata.

Handy is joined by his sister Thelma Handy in a performance of the Duo for cello and piano, op. 7. Like the solo cello sonata this employs a folk-inspired idiom, with quite an improvisatory quality. There were some echoes also of the English folk music school, particularly E. J. Moeran’s String Quartet. The Handys are very well-matched tonally, Thelma’s rich, almost viola-like sound making an excellent foil for her brother’s cello. Their interplay is unselfish, each receding into the background when the other has the melodic interest. This is a most enjoyable performance that was the surprise package of the disc. The recording is highly successful, achieving a vivid sound picture without any feeling of artificiality.

Maria Kliegel’s 1994 recording of the Sonata for solo cello and the Sonata for cello and piano easily surmounts the technical demands of these works, and her playing is, as always, clean and direct. She is well partnered in the Sonata for cello and piano op. 4, and Kodaly’s arrangement of three chorale preludes by Bach, by Jeno Jandó. The rather dull-sounding recording, however, lets the performances down somewhat.

Guy Aron

Emotional depth as well as technical assurance.