First Rhapsody [transcription by the composer]
Ruralia Hungarica, Op.32 [one movement transcribed by the composer]
Sonata in B flat minor for Cello and Piano, Op.8
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth [transcription by the composer]
Toccata capricciosa for solo cello, Op.36
Mark Kosower (cello) & Jee-Won Oh (piano)
Recorded 14-18 April 2006 in Beethovensaal, Hanover, Germany
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570570
Duration: 74 minutes
This wide-ranging collection of music for cello and piano by Hungarian composers finds both the instrumentalists recorded in just balance – that is as a duo rather than as a cello soloist and piano accompanist; maybe both are too closely recorded, though, which maybe mitigates against the very quietest playing.
Nevertheless both musicians can take the attention of the spotlight and they interact very well. Mark Kosower is a superb cellist; a virtuoso who serves music with personality and resourcefulness. Jee-Won Oh (born in Seoul) is equally adept and characterful. They make a fine team.
The opening Bartók Rhapsody (nominally for violin and piano or for violin and orchestra but here played in the composer’s transcription and with an “alternative ending”) is fiery and volatile, Kosower’s lean but variegated sound ideally projecting the intense melodies and stamping dances.
This well-chosen selection of mostly short pieces includes a song by Liszt (“The Nonnenwerth Cloisters”) that he made various transcriptions of and which is here expressively relayed to the listener. Of the chosen pair from David Popper’s pen the Mazurka is a showpiece and the Serenade a charming salon number that is a long way away from the depths of Kodály’s Adagio (also originally for violin and piano and sounding profound on the cello).
Ernö Dohnányi’s Ruralia Hungarica consists of seven pieces – all for piano and some for various instrumentation; this arrangement (of Opus 32d) is the only one for cello and piano, a slow meditation, the piano imitating a cimbalom, the cello offering a long beatific plea rising in strength. By contrast, while that example of Dohnányi’s art overtly suggests his Hungarian roots, his substantial four-movement Sonata is heavily influenced by Brahms while retaining integrity and personality; the work leaves a big impression especially in this powerful, shapely and energised account that reveals these musicians at their most communicative and responsive. The finale, a Theme and Variations, which is linked to the preceding Adagio, is particularly inventive.
Most of the music here is for cello and piano, so was it such a good idea to end with Miklós Rózsa’s Toccata capricciosa, which is for solo cello? That would have fitted in well earlier, leaving the last word to Dohnányi’s splendid Sonata. Nevertheless, it proves a really fine piece, composed in 1976 for Gregor Piatigorsky, and is both rigorous and fantastical, its Hungarian elements threaded through the 7-minute course like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. The performance seems magnificent.
Mark Kosower is a cellist to be reckoned with – both musically and technically and he also commands a wide range of colour and levels of emotion. Naxos’s booklet doesn’t answer all questions about these artists, but the publicity material supplied with the disc confirms that Kosower is American and that he and Jee-Won Oh are married; also why this recording is “dedicated with our sincere gratitude and affection to János Starker and György Sebök”: Kosower has obviously come into contact with that great cellist and his wife was once Starker’s “studio pianist and assistant”. To complete a top-notch release, Kosower has written a very readable note for the booklet.