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Pohadka CHAN20227
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Pohádka: Tales from Prague to Budapest
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Pohádka, JW VII/5 (1910, rev. 1912-23) [11:52]
Violin Sonata, JW VII/7 (1914-15, rev 1916-22, arr. cello) [18:31]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4 (1909-10) [17:51]
Mért is mondod, hogy nem szeretsz, Op. post. No.1, arr. cello [2:12]
Vékony a pókháló, Op. 1, No. 9 (1907-09) arr. cello [1:58]
Sonatina for Cello and Piano (1909) [9:16]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Als die alte Mutter, Op. 55 No. 4, B 104, S 73 (1880, arr. cello) [2:11]
András MIHÁLY (1917-1993)
Mouvement for Cello and Piano (1963) [8:41]
Vítězslava KAPRÁLOVÁ (1915-1940)
Navždy, Op. 12 No. 1 (1936-37) arr. cello [2:57]
Laura van der Heijden (cello)
Jâms Coleman (piano)
rec. 24-27 July 2021, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20227 [76:06]

This is the second CD to feature BBC Music Magazine award winner Laura van der Heijden as soloist, the first being 1948 containing Russian works for cello and piano and enthusiastically reviewed by Steve Arloff. There she was accompanied by Petr Limonov. Here her partner is Welsh pianist Jâms Coleman. According to the two musicians’ note in the disc’s booklet, they met at the International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove in 2017 where he was accompanying another violinist. Van der Heijden was mesmerised by Coleman’s musicianship. They first performed together the following year and included Janáček’s Pohádka (Fairy Tale) in their concert. This launched their collaboration for a disc of Czech and Hungarian folk-influenced music. Some of the works presented here work better than others to have a wholly satisfying programme. That said, the performances themselves leave little to be desired.

The highlights are Janáček’s Pohádka and Kodály’s Sonata and Sonatina. They are played as well as other accounts with which I compared them. However, I would not prefer them to some of their competition. Van der Heijden with her burnished tone and prodigious technique and Coleman as equal partner convey the many facets of Janáček’s masterpiece, a sonata in all but name. They do not shortchange the drama of the first movement with their wide dynamic range. She plays the pizzicatos of the second movement with clarity and precision and the lyrical melody with real feeling. The finale is light and whimsical, but not rushed. I still prefer Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen (RCA) in this work for their greater drama and larger-than-life performance. Isserlis’s pizzicatos really ring out reverberantly quite unlike any other I have heard. Furthermore, their disc includes an earlier version of the work containing the Presto second movement that is often played as separate piece and would have increased the value of the new disc had it been added to the Pohádka. Instead, we get the duo’s arrangement of the Violin Sonata as the conclusion to the album. It surely increases the length of the disc, but for me does not add anything special. I would much prefer to hear it in its original instrumentation.

The performance of Kodály’s Cello Sonata is also a success. Van der Heijden’s entrance at the beginning is eloquent and the piano follows quietly and movingly with due hesitance. As the music becomes rhapsodic and agitated, the duo are really exciting. The contrast with the second movement is telling where they interpret the folk-style dance with lightness and ease. I wonder, though, if the piano part is too discreet here. The work ends quietly with the pensive theme of the first movement nicely played. I compared this account with that of the Koreans, Sung-Won Yang and Ick-Choo Moon on an all-Kodály album (EMI). There is little to choose between these two performances in the first movement, but I prefer the Koreans to Van der Heijden/Coleman in the following one. They are just that much livelier and the piano really blossoms in an account that has more verve in my opinion. The Sonatina is also a bit more subdued and broader than Yang/Moon’s performance (9:16 vs. 7:38), but the newcomers have a nice blend and perform the piece well.

The other Kodály pieces, arrangements by Van der Heijden of songs, are pleasant enough, but Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me is really touching in this version for cello and piano. The composers on the remainder of the programme were new to me. I was more impressed with Kaprálová’s brief Navždy (Forever), another song arrangement, than with Mihály’s Mouvement. The former is a lovely song with a lyrical cello melody over piano ripples that harmonically reminds me of Janáček. It ends abruptly and too soon, but it is played very well. I found Mihály’s Mouvement dissonant and dry, largely unmemorable, though it lightens up in the middle of the piece with a dance-like section. It contains a bit of sul ponticello writing, is virtuosic, but holds no terrors for the musicians.

Overall, this disc showcases the talents of these artists. I personally am not that taken with some of their selections, but other listeners may feel differently. Chandos’s product is further enhanced by Czech music specialist Jan Smaczny’s substantial notes on the works and the copious black-and-white photos in the disc’s booklet.

Leslie Wright

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