Sonata for Solo Cello, Op.8
Sonatina for Cello and Piano
Natalie Clein (cello) & Julius Drake (piano)
Recorded 28-30 November 2009 at the Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: July 2010
CD No: HYPERION CDA67829
Duration: 69 minutes
Natalie Clein’s first recording since moving from EMI Classics to Hyperion finds her taking on a 20th-century heavyweight in Zoltán Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello. Written in 1915, it bears the emotional hallmarks of a wartime piece, and remains one of the peaks of the solo-cello repertoire, capturing as it does a multitude of Hungarian folk-references and -textures. Clein is alive to these in a most impressive account, and at times it is as if her cello has become several instruments at once, making the sounds of a flute, a whistle and even a zither. Her voicing of each part is distinctive, especially when there is pizzicato accompaniment to a bowed theme, while her technique and tuning are beyond reproach. Rubato, vibrato and phrasing are all sensitively applied, even if she falls just short of János Starker’s famously idiomatic reading.
The imposing double-stopped passages are powerfully delivered as the first movement begins with a real frisson of drama, the recording of Clein’s cello close but not claustrophobic. Where too many cellists hone in on the virtuosic loud passages as their main focus point, Clein finds acute expression in the more pensive, withdrawn moments, with the lower-register melody of the Adagio and the second theme of the first movement vivid cases in point. The tension slackens a little for the finale, yet this too has much to commend it, setting off at a rollicking pace. Running through this performance is a strong sense of outdoors, Clein projecting the primitive nature of much of Kodály’s music, as well as the ethno-musicological strands of which she writes in the booklet note.
Complementing the Sonata are smaller-scale and less-fervent works for cello and piano. The Sonatina appears to be somewhat in debt to Debussy’s Cello Sonata, which was completed seven years earlier, with its introduction on the piano a call to arms in the same key of D minor. This is well-judged by Julius Drake, and Clein’s entrance is deliberately tentative but grows nicely into the melodic line.
The rarely heard Epigrams are an intriguing collection of folksy miniatures, published in 1954. Both players have clear affection for the melodic charms of these short pieces, whether in the lyricism of the first or the mysteriously rippling textures of the eighth. The early Romance provides an example of Kodály’s affinity with the cello as a teenager, while the more substantial Adagio finds Clein choosing her level of vibrato carefully. It is an example of the attention to detail with which all the performances have been prepared, and the obvious affection that both she and Julius Drake feel for these pieces. As a whole, this release makes a most satisfying and illuminating collection that brings Kodály closer to Bartók than we might have imagined.