Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38
Grand duo concertant
Cello Sonata, Op.4
Variations on a Slovak Folk Song
Miklós Perényi (cello) & Dénes Várjon (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 10 October, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Anyone who attended the South Bank’s concerts devoted to the music of György Kurtág earlier this year will recall the wonderfully expressive contributions of Miklós Perényi. A cellist in what one might describe as the Pierre Fournier mould, he brought quiet authority and a discreet virtuosity to this Wigmore recital.
Placing the two most substantial pieces in the first half was not perhaps the best policy, as it gave an emotional imbalance to the evening as a whole. Kodály’s Sonata (1906-10) underwent a protracted genesis and revision before arriving at its present form. The free-flowing spontaneity of the ’Fantasia’, followed by the lively folk-saturated ’Rondo’ works well in theory, but the ideas are curiously inert and unmemorable – even when the opening material is brought back to provide a brooding postlude – and the work as a whole hardly ranks with the Duo or the Solo Sonata in exemplifying what Kodály was writing for the instrument at this time.
The performance was sensitive and focused, but the account of Brahms’s First Sonata which followed proved more engrossing. For all its relatively modest technical demands, this is among the most closely argued of the composer’s chamber works – with, as Misha Donat pointed out in the programme, a stylistic traversal from the dour Romanticism of the opening movement, via the gently stylized Classicism of the central minuet, to the Bachian vigour and intricacy of the closing fugue. Perényi played with understated authority, but it was the interplay between him and Dénes Várjon – spontaneous and subtle – which proved the most memorable aspect of the performance.
Várjon was given his head after the interval, in Chopin’s Grand duo concertant – a bravura potpourri on themes from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable. Entertaining, but Martinu’s Variations on a Slovak Folk Song (1959) was the real discovery of the evening. More acerbic and intense than other of the works from his last year, as if the shadow of Bartók were being consciously evoked, this compact sequence traversed a variety of moods and playing techniques – a piece cellists everywhere should take up.
If Sándor Veress’s Cello Sonata (1933) was less compelling, it’s worth noting the didactic function of the piece – one of numerous such sonatas the composer wrote during this period – as well as the lucid demonstration of canonic and contrapuntal wizardry contained within its succinct three-movement format. Perényi leavened his thoughtful performance with a touch of affection, then gave Bartók’s First Rhapsody its head. This transcription of the violin original needs careful balancing if the music’s thematic rigour and harmonic pungency are fully to register – whether in the robust folksiness of the ’Lassú’ section, or the accelerating melodic drive of the ensuing ’Friss’. Suffice to say that Perényi and Várjon, attentive to formal ingenuity as well as expressive eloquence, did not disappoint.
As an encore were three brief and charming folksong transcriptions by Kodály, played with the unassuming mastery that Perényi had demonstrated all evening.