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Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Sonata for solo cello, Opus 8 (1915) [31:23]
Sonatina for cello and piano (1921) [8:45]
Capriccio for solo cello (1915) [4:55]
Adagio for cello and piano (1905) [7:47]
Sonata for cello and piano, Opus 4 (1909) [16.47]
István Várdai (cello)
Klára Würtz (piano)
rec. Kodály Centre, Pécs, Hungary, 2015

After Béla Bartók, Kodály is the most famous Hungarian composer of the 20th century, yet during his long life he left relatively few compositions. This may well have been because of his wide-ranging musical activities as much as to the nature of his creative muse, since his work in the fields of teaching, folksong collecting, writing and musicology was of international significance.

What is particularly valuable about this collection of performances by István Várdai and Klára Würtz is that it gathers together the composer’s works featuring the cello. Moreover the Sonata for solo cello lays claim to the accolade of being the finest solo composition for the instrument since Bach, so it is pleasing to find it leading the way here. Várdai proves a sensitive and compelling advocate, whose technical command is impressive. However, there is more to it than that, since the music proves to be highly charged emotionally as well, across each of its three movements in a thirty-minute span. It is therefore a compelling and substantial masterpiece in every sense. And that is precisely the effect his performance achieves from the listener’s point of view, aided by the excellent quality of the recorded sound.

In 1915, when Kodály wrote this work, Béla Bartók commented: ‘This is not a mere imitation of Bach's polyphonic style.’ In fact Bartók went further, praising Kodály’s music as ‘the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit’. And this before the time of his most famous compositions, such as Háry János and the Dances of Galánta,.representing the highest praise and understanding of his potential. It is no exaggeration to claim that Kodály was the first composer to enhance the cello repertoire with a major solo work, since Bach composed his suites some two hundred years earlier. He produced a truly virtuoso and eloquent sonata.

Prior to composing the solo sonata, in 1909 Kodály had written the duo Sonata opus 4 for the conventional combination of cello and piano. David Moncar’s excellent and detailed insert notes tell us that at the first performance this work had three movements, but the composer decided to discard the first of them, leaving just the Fantasia and Allegro recorded here. At approaching twenty minutes these are a significant achievement, and the artists make a compelling case for them.

The remainder of the programme consists of three shorter single movements, a Sonatina, a Capriccio and an Adagio, all of which have their own appeal in completing this important addition to the Kodály discography.

Terry Barfoot



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