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Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Drei Stücke, for cello and piano (1891) [7:56]
Cello Sonata in A minor (1894) [27:33]
Gerard von Brucken FOCK (1859-1935)
Cello Sonata in E minor (1884 rev 1931) [20:52]
Ernö von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Cello Sonata in B flat major, Op.8 (1899) [26:58]
Larissa Groeneveld (cello)
Frank van de Laar (piano)
rec. September 2014 and February 2015, Studio van Schuppen, Veenendaal, Netherlands
GUTMAN RECORDS CD154 [55:41 + 26:57]

Late-Romanticism flourishes here in music composed in the last decade-and-a-half of the nineteenth-century. Zemlinsky’s 1901 Three Pieces is the only non-sonata in the programme but conforms well to the general expressive tenor enshrined in the two discs. The first of the three is quite wry and witty, full of waspish athleticism whilst the central piece is a beautiful Lied, a song without words, noble and unaffected. The tarantella finale is appropriately vivacious. In their disc, Raphael Wallfisch and John York prove the more expressive and technically athletic duo: Nimbus NI 5806.

Gerard von Brucken Fock is pretty much an unknown so a few biographical words might be in order. He was a Dutch composer born near Middelburg in 1859 and studied in Berlin with a step-brother of Clara Schumann, and later on with that well-known instructor and incubator of talent, Friedrich Kiel. His life was one of extremes – chamber composition was interrupted by a crisis in which spirituality, then faith, then work as a piano teacher and even farm worker intruded. Crises followed of various kinds, as well as work as a music critic – before a return to composing music. He revised his 1884 Sonata in 1931, at a time he revisited number of his compositions. It’s a very Brahmsian piece emphasizing strong lyric gifts and not too expansive. The Allegretto is aptly grazioso, the piano tinkling away decoratively around the cello in a firefly dance whilst there’s a curiously intense but equally curiously brief Adagio – full of melancholy - before a very unusual, and in some places cod-Mozartian finale, sweeps all away. It takes several listens to try to appreciate the structure and emotional temperature of this sonata – and I’m not sure I really have, but I enjoyed trying.

Zemlinsky’s Sonata is cast in three movements, conjoining lyric intensity with motivic turbulence and a modicum of Brahmsian tautness too. This torrid lyricism is a feature of the work, the cello either ruminating or, as in the Andante, buzzing away over the piano’s strong masculine chording. The Allegretto finale features entertaining conversations between the two protagonists. There are guitar imitations, there’s dance vivacity - albeit in a rather heavy, over-saturated way - and a delicious quiet sunlit coda. It’s a work with the confidence to take a few holes out of expected norms. It’s a work worth getting to know and this is an engaging performance though once again not the equal of the Wallfisch-York duo on the disc cited above.

Five years after the Zemlinsky came Dohnanyi’s Sonata, Op.8. It too was recorded by Wallfisch and York in another Nimbus disc, this time a twofer on NI 5901-02, though there are plenty of other recordings available these days. Both teams bring out the terse, Brahmsian syntax of this 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 detail id pursued here, and the music - whether introspective or charged - is well characterised. The close of the sonata - requiring tight ensemble - is also well dispatched, though it must cede to the Nimbus pairing in terms of finesse and flair.

Jonathan Woolf



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