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First Day
Josť BRAGATO (b. 1915)
Graciela y Buenos Aires [7:42]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Variations on a Slovakian Theme [10:09]
Caleb BURHANS (b. 1980)
Phantasie [7:05]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Pampeana No. 2, Op. 21 [10:04]
Georges ENESCU (1881-1955)
Sonata in F minor [9:08]
Dan VISCONTI (b. 1981)
Hard-Knock Stomp [2:52]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Variations on La Folia [8:47]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Les chemins de l’amour
Laura Metcalf (cello)
Matei Varga (piano)
rec. 20-23 April, 2015, Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia, USA
SONO LUMINUS DSL-92201 [59:08]

Laura Metcalf’s new cello recital spans the globe with greater ease than any frequent flier. One moment we’re in Buenos Aires; the next, Slovakia; the United States, Romania, and France all appear, too. The general theme is exuberance and youthful ardor, a promise which the performers fabulously keep.

There are almost too many highlights to mention separately. Josť Bragato demonstrates that there’s more to Nuevo tango than his old performing partner, Piazzolla; Bragato, a cellist himself, is still alive at the age of 101. Martinů’s Slovak Folksong Variations are now, finally, being recognized as a masterpiece for cello and piano. They are here given an ardent performance fully capturing their melancholy and supreme beauty. The medieval tune La Folia appears in variations by Marin Marais, performed with no concession to period-instrument styles. By that I mean Metcalf and Varga embrace the big sounds of their instruments, and the cellist uses plenty of vibrato.

Two other living composers appear: Caleb Burhans, with a Phantasie that combines a Glass-like minimalist accompaniment with sighing cello melodies and occasional influences from Arabic music, and Dan Visconti, whose Hard-Knock Stomp is a short bluesy work that also counts as a virtuoso workout for its cellist. You can hear influences of composers like Edgar Meyer, Peter Schickele, and maybe (in terms of technique, at least) Britten. This is a solo piece, so pianist Matei Varga can take a moment to relax.

Hard-Knock Stomp was written by a teenager, though only its enthusiasm might give this fact away. Another teenager is on the album: Enescu was only a student when he wrote his very brief cello sonata, a highly impassioned, ultra-romantic work with bold emotion and a brief fugue.

Throughout the programme, Laura Metcalf and Matei Varga make for superb company. Their partnership is utterly natural, as one would expect from performers who have collaborated for over a decade. Sono Luminus keeps its own studio in rural Virginia, where the standards of recording are state-of-the-art. Metcalf’s booklet essay is terrific, too, explaining the various personal connections she feels to this music. The Poulenc encore is a song she frequently performs with her pianist father, for example. Metcalf plays the tune on cello—and then sings it in French, showing off a quite attractive voice which evokes Paris nightclubs more than opera halls.

To sum up: this disc and its admirably eclectic programme may be hard to categorize, but the program works admirably well. We didn’t really need another traversal of the Brahms sonatas, after all. I’ll be looking forward to more listens, and hopefully more recordings, from this exciting duo.

Brian Reinhart



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