BARBER: Cello Sonata in C Minor, Op. 6; GRIEG: Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op. 36; MARTINU: Variations on a Slovakian Theme – Kristine Blaumane, cello/Jacob Katnelson, piano – Quartz

by | Dec 31, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BARBER: Cello Sonata in C Minor, Op. 6; GRIEG: Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op. 36; MARTINU: Variations on a Slovakian Theme – Kristine Blaumane, cello /Jacob Katnelson, piano – Quartz QTZ 2057, 59:10 [Distrib. by Allegro] ****:

An expressive sound document: three individualistic approaches to the cello literature, played by two youthful, enthusiastic artists. The Barber Cello Sonata (1932) was a favorite of cellists Piatagorsky and Garbousova, a piece combining Germanic, highly Brahmsian elements with Barber’s native tunefulness. The occasional discordances testify to Barber’s modernism, but the main lyrical melody is all song, likely voiced according to the composer’s natural baritone. The second movement fuses both Adagio and Scherzo functions, the former a warm cantilena followed by a metrically knotty scherzo that likes the Brahms technique of sly divisions of three and four, in the manner of hemiola. The return of the Adagio section becomes incantatory, not far from the world of Ernest Bloch. The last movement casts a grim shadow, passionate but troubled. Rather bi-tonal in nature, it contests the C Minor tonality of the piano against the cello’s penchant for F-sharp Minor. Pianist Katnelson exploits some solo runs as well as provides underpinning to Blaumane’s moody plaints. Some high-tension, throaty outpouring from our cellist, a real tour de force.

Grieg’s Cello Sonata (1883) seems to enjoy a resurgence among cellists of late, and its melodic currency–notwithstanding its kinship to the Piano Concerto and Sigurd
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-compels us by its direct, natural lyricism. Grieg’s chromatic harmonies remain the secret of his immortal charm, and the colors of the Cello Sonata certainly gain by the composer’s uncanny sonic balances. Blaumane basks in the luxuriousness of the part writing, often soaring and then descending, fortissimo, in mighty waves of emotion. Grieg admitted with candor that the Cello Sonata did not mark an advance in his technique as a composer, but even the stylistic “borrowing” from the Piano Concerto or folkish Peer Gynt only urges our desire for more familiarity with this emotionally insistent piece. The lovely Andante mood soon yields to a more agitated character, Poco piu mosso, in which the principals must play triple-forte, bringing out the soul of composer and performers alike. The last bars remind us of Solveg’s Song from Peer Gynt.  A cello solo opens the last movement, rife with energetic, Norwegian folk influences from the halls of the Mountain King that ask our performers for quick, light, and eager hands.

The last piece on this recital is Martinu’s final chamber composition, his Variations on a Slovakian Folk Theme (1959), written in Switzerland. Based on a mordant little tune, “Ked bych ja vedela,” the English equivalent of “If only I had known,” the piece tonally and modally looks backward, its nostalgic mood often paraphrasing rather than quoting directly every note of the original air. A marvelous, vibrant display piece, it has cellist Blaumine all over the fingerboard, alternately dazzling with fiery technique or with fervent expression. The compression of mercurial, highly contrasting affects suggests how easily this fine cellist could accommodate the Strauss Don Quixote.  Recorded 19-21 March 2007 at the Gnessin Music College, this disc testifies that each of the laureates has imbibed a natural fluency in a variety of musical styles.

–Gary Lemco

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