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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Première Élégie S130 (1874) [5:49]
Zweite Elegie S131 (1877) [5:17]
Romance oubliée S132(1881) [4:18]
La lugubre gondola S134 (1882-83) [9:59]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth S382 (1883) [7:13]
Consolations; Six Pensées poétiques S172 (1844-49) (transcribed by Jules de Swert (1870)) [18:56]
O du mein holder Abendstern from Tannhäuser, reconstructed by Leslie Howard [6:31]
Ernö DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Cello Sonata in B flat major, Op.8 (1899) [26:36]
Ruralia hungarica, Op.32/d (1924) [5:58]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Cello Sonata, Op.4 (1909-10) [18:14]
Sonatina (1921-22) [7:18]
Adagio (1910) [9:04]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
John York (piano)
rec. November 2011 (Liszt and Dohnányi) and April 2012 (Kodály), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
NIMBUS NI 5901/02 [58:07 + 67:10]

Raphael Wallfisch continues his fine series of Nimbus discs with this Hungarian-themed twofer. It’s a bipartite affair. The second disc concentrates on the established pairing of the sonatas by Dohnányi and Kodály, adding satellite works by both men. The first presents what will, to some, seem unlikely fare, in the form of a whole disc of cello and piano music by Liszt.
Displaced in popularity, ubiquity and sheer size by his solo piano music, Liszt’s chamber music forms a small pocket of resistance, though one seldom heard in a recital context - with one or two notable exceptions. Cellists do sometimes play Jules de Swert’s 1870 transcription of the six Consolations and it makes for an appealing addition to the fringe repertory. It’s a measure of his success that Wallfisch persuades the listener that the songfully and lyrically effusive pieces are germane to the cellist as much as to the pianist, and that he has not strayed into alien territory. For that, too, the transcriber must take credit. If forced to select one, I’d choose No.2 to demonstrate Wallfisch’s well-calibrated vibrato and legato.
He catches the rise and fall of Première Élégie and the unsettled countenance of the second Elegy, written three years later; one should not overlook John York’s refined pianism here and throughout. La lugubre gondola reveals a full complement of intensity and foreboding, balanced finely between both instruments and projected with maximum effectiveness. O du mein holder Abendstern from Tannhäuser, is heard in a reconstruction by Leslie Howard. It existed as early as 1852 - it’s in effect a glorified Greatest Hit from the opera arranged for cello and piano - but survived in no more than a fragmentary way.
Wallfisch and York bring out the terse, Brahmsian syntax of Dohnányi’s 1899 sonata, complete with suitably taut tone from the cellist in places. The scherzo is rhythmically charged and the slow movement a brief reprieve before the extensive Theme and Variations finale. Much varied material and tempi are pursued here, and the music - whether introspective or charged - is excellently characterised. The close of the sonata - requiring tight ensemble - is excitingly dispatched. The two musicians know precisely how to convey the atmospherics of Ruralia hungarica. Moody nasality dominates the opening of Kodály’s Op.4 Sonata. Here York comes to the fore with his cimbalom evocations, in music deeply embedded in the classicised folk idiom. The second of the two movements is no less excitingly done, marrying exuberant vitality, dance drama and a certain resigned, melancholic reflectiveness too. Moments of heightened expression, such as the cello’s soliloquy and the piano’s insistent chordal patterns are especially and conspicuously well projected.
The Sonatina was originally conceived as the finale for the Op.4 Sonata but detached from it. The Sonata functions much better without it, having quite enough material and contrast to keep an audience engaged. But the Sonatina works well as a stand-alone piece and so too does the Adagio, sometimes taken over by violinists for their encores.
The recording is quite brightly lit, and the lack of very much cushioning means that sometimes the cello tone can be a touch insistent. But this really hardly detracts from a most successful two-disc set with some excellent performances. Of them the Kodály sonata is the absolute pick.
Jonathan Woolf