Sonata for unaccompanied cello
Sonata for solo cello, Op.8
Bach, transcribed Busoni
Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV659
Piano Sonata in G
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111
James Barralet (cello)
Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 19 January, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This Park Lane Group concert began with two works for unaccompanied cello. James Barralet’s choices were striking – two twentieth-century sonatas, both by Hungarians of great distinction. Right from the outset – a triple-stopped glissando – Barralet’s mastery of his instrument was evident, as well as his dedicated advocacy of its matchless depth.
György Ligeti wrote the first movement of his sonata as a music student in Budapest. His girlfriend had just left him – the pain of her rejection shows. The second movement was completed five years later. Barralet’s perceptive programme note speaks of the “turbulent momentum of this sometimes furious, sometimes taunting musical outburst.”
The sonata exhibits Ligeti’s prevalent modernism, together with keen awareness of his Middle European inheritance. He respects the courtly formality of Austrian dominance and the genial music-making of Hungarian peasantry through generations. With crystalline intelligence, he marshals his notes with tension and into structures integral to his personal make-up. Barralet understood all this with direct clarity, ensuring that his rich, dark instrument spoke the same precise yet emotion-tinged language.
Zoltán Kodály, a cellist himself, took Barralet still further into the art of evoking sounds of burnished, mellow resonance. Sturdily, and with absolute clarity of intent, Barralet took us through the imposing medley of techniques and styles that Kodály enmeshed into such a striking whole – the percussion, the drone, the hurdy-gurdy, the characteristic tones of the viola, the violin, the female voice, the folksong and the peasant dance. This was distinguished playing of an imposing composition.
Hiroaki Takenouchi, unfortunately, had a different story to tell. His programme notes were intellectual and wordy. He sounded most at home with the Stanchinsky Sonata, a very forward-looking work for 1914. In the first movement, the sounds glittered serenely in the night-sky as if the pianist’s fingertips were twinkling stars, a celestial astronomer tracing the music of the spheres. The following movement, in sonata form, had the raging, abstract fury of an electric storm. Takenouchi’s fingers fell upon the piano keys like hailstones falling mercilessly – everywhere.
I heard the Bach-Busoni as a tribute to the late Yonty Solomon, a fine Bach player, with a monolithic sense of Bach’s earth-rooted serenity. Alas, neither Takenouchi’s heart nor his fingers are ready to convey the impressive mystery that his teacher had introduced him to. There was evident striving – from the head – as Takenouchi strained to create a durable, over-arching structure.
Beethoven’s final piano sonata had a meticulous, clear and taut outing – intellectual and not without power. The mighty opening movement unrolled with force and detachment – resembling analysis from some magisterial academic, in bold type. The ‘Arietta’ fared worse, deprived, on the editorial advice of Barry Cooper, of its contaminating and inauthentic ‘Adagio molto semplice e cantabile’ marking. Now, states Takenouchi in his written note, “the elevated mathematical bliss of the movement benefits from a tempo within which the theme and its variations can be more or less accommodated”. And that is what I heard, I think – “elevated mathematical bliss” bulging inside Takenouchi’s head.