The musical partnership of the German cellist Valentin Radutiu and Swedish pianist Per Rundberg is well-established. They have already collaborated on another CD on the Hänssler Classic (cello sonatas by Lalo, Magnard and Ravel), and Oehms: a programme which includes the Franck Sonata and Radutiu’s own arrangement of the Saint-Säens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Op. 28. They have also recorded a CD devoted to the cello works of Peter Ruzicka, with contributions from the Camerata Salzburg directed by Ruzicka himself (Thorofon).
Born in 1986, Radutiu had his first cello lessons with his father. His later teachers included Heinrich Schiff, with whom he studied in Vienna. He has been the recipient of several prizes in national and international competitions. His technique is formidable as clips on Youtube testify. Have a look at his sensational performance of Wieniawski’s Scherzo-Tarantella. Yet, it is not just showy technique which singles him out as one of the up-and coming young cello talents on the circuit today. He has also won a prize for the best interpretation of a work by Bach.
On this 2-CD set Radutiu and Rundberg play the complete works for cello and piano by the Romanian composer Georges Enescu. The main body of the programme consists of the two cello and piano sonatas. Though allocated the same opus number, these sonatas were, in fact, composed thirty-seven years apart, and not published until 1952. The first sonata dates from 1898 and premiered by Joseph Salmon, with Enescu at the piano. The second sonata was dedicated to Pablo Casals and completed in 1935. It was premiered in Paris the following year by Diran Alexanian, again with Enesco playing the piano part. Both sonatas occupy totally different worlds in terms of style. Op. 26/1 is a late-romantic work, showing the influences of Brahms and Saint-Säens. However, in the years following the First World War, Enescu began to find his own voice. Op. 26/2 inhabits the world of the Third Violin Sonata and the Second Piano Quartet. It is imbued with Romanian folk-inspired rhythms and melodies and is in a more improvisatory style. Enescu’s use of colour in another notable feature.
The opening movement of Op.26/1 begins with a three-note motif. This immediately leads to a Brahmsian chordal melody on the piano which is accompanied by a dotted cello rhythm. Rundberg voices the chords exquisitely, and Radutiu is rhythmically incisive in his dotted rhythms. Both players emphasise the dramatic elements. Eventually, the movement opens out into a lyrical section with Radutiu employing his rich full-bodied tone. At 3:25 there is an outstanding example of the cellist’s beautiful warm, richly expressive tone, with the piano supporting through a sensitive accompaniment. A capricious scherzo follows, and the players fully capture the light-hearted, sunny, frolicking disposition, interrupted by a melody of charm and elegance. The third movement Molto Andante is expressive, tender and passionate, yet with dark undertones. It feels very much like the emotional core of the work. The playing is fervent, with both players engaging with passionate intensity. The sonata ends with a Presto, in parts fugal in character.
Op. 26/2 is a finer work, composed in a more mature style. The long phrases of the first movement can appear meandering and formless in the wrong hands. Radutiu’s phrasing is intelligent, and he understands the structure and narrative. The performers underscore the improvisatory nature of the writing, giving the listener the impression that the music is continually evolving. The dark, melancholic and contemplative elements are accentuated. The second movement is rife with agitation and unease. Then follows an Andantino cantabile, elegiac in character. Radutius’ solo cello at the beginning is plaintive and poignant. The sonata ends with a fantasia-like finale, where some of the themes reminded me very much of the third violin sonata. Enescu here employs Romanian folk-inspired rhythms and melodies. Both players, throughout show great affinity and understanding. They have a singular vision, and this contributes to their success as a duo partnership.
As fillers, there are two welcome additions. The Nocturne and Saltarello, which was only discovered several years ago, and an undated fragment (229 bars) of a sonata movement in F minor. This has been completed by Hans-Peter Türk. It has been suggested that it could have been a preparatory study for the sonata Op. 26/1, also in F minor.
Despite not being in the mainstream cello repertoire, the Enescu cello sonatas are relatively well-served on CD with a half dozen recordings currently in the catalogue. The sound quality on this disc is exemplary, and the engineers have managed to achieve an ideal balance between the two instruments. Comprehensive booklet notes, in German and English, are by Michael Kube. I would encourage readers who are not familiar with them to explore these beautifully realized, and richly rewarding works.