A truly elegant “hour” of Romantic cello music comes to us via two instrumentalists in spirited kinship.
CHOPIN: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65; SCHUMANN: 3 Fantasiestuecke, Op. 73; GRIEG: Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36 – Inbal Segev, cello/ Juho Pohjonen, piano – Avie AV2389, 70:13 (7/20/18) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This recital (rec. 4-6 October 2017), which represents the debut of cellist Inbal Segev on the Avie label, would seem to extend a career as meaningful as those of contemporaries Natalia Gutman, Sol Gabetta, Alisa Weilerstein, and the great precursor Zara Nelsova. The blazing sonority of Segev’s 1673 Ruggieri instrument, particularly as employed in the stunning Cello Sonata in A minor by Edvard Grieg, will electrify auditors from the outset, especially given the equally alluring keyboard collaboration from the Finnish virtuoso Juho Pohjonen (b. 1981), whose work at the Music@Menlo Festival I have followed with some dedication.
Segev and Pohjonen open with Chopin’s 1846 Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65, created for the admired August Franchomme (1808-1884). After the piano, Chopin most revered the cello, and of his five concerted works, three are for that instrument. Chopin and Franchomme performed the piece together as part of Chopin’s last appearance in Paris, 13 February 1848. The intensified aspects of the late Chopin style predominate in terms of harmonic richness and audacity, a penchant for idiosyncratic polyphony, and a disarming simplicity of the melodic line, as in the secondary subject of movement one, Allegro moderato, which constitutes a mere ten-note tune in B-flat Major. Pohjonen’s piano begins the piece, quickly bounding up from a solemn march to a glistening flourish in high register. With the entrance of the cello, Pohjonen’s hands will often divide the melodic line, so that the cello adds what constitutes a three-part instrumentation. The writing often suggests a dramatic ballade as much as it embraces sonata-form structure. The lovely cantabile B-flat theme will come back unchanged in the recapitulation as something pristine, untouched by the (chromatic) turmoil the music often develops.
A mischievous sensibility inhabits the D minor Scherzo, built upon short, thrusting phrases between the instruments, with Segev’s melodic, Trio waltz soaring in rapt bliss over Pohjonen’s arpeggios. The central Largo movement, incredibly brief (27 measures) provides a nocturnal gesture, sadly intimate. The deep tones of Segev’s cello play against the ariosi the middle-voice piano sings. The Finale: Allegro sports dotted rhythms at first, playful, in the manner of a rondo. Pojhonen’s part runs rife with triplet figures, the sonority well anticipatory of later Rachmaninov. Chopin’s lines weave a complex tapestry, sensuous and darkly galloping. Late in the movement the dotted rhythm dissipates, and the music gravitates to G Major, where sun and smiles can still exist in the late, often tragic, Chopin universe.
Schumann wrote his Three Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 73 in 1849. The transcription for the cello’s plaintive deep register is common currency, The opening work, marked as “Tender and with Expression,” proceeds in a glowing A minor, with a flowing accompaniment from Pohjonen in triplet arpeggios. The melancholy mood yields eventually to serene A Major. The A Major tonality extends into the second piece, “Lively and Energetic,” in which the syncopes of duple eighths in the cello line compete with piano triplets. The Trio section, in F Major, has the triplets become more chromatic, moving between both parts. Segev’s cello takes up a lyrical line that recalls the opening of the piece, though the coda seeks a quiet close. Quick on the heels of the middle piece, the last seeks a level of intense virtuosity, marked Rasch und mit Feuer, quickly and with fire, even demanding Schneller—more quickly—at the coda. The last page provides a mutual interchange of passion, a real surge of the Romantic temperament.
Edvard Grieg’s only Cello Sonata (1883) came at a time of personal indecision and anxiety for the composer, who had abandoned any attempt to write a second piano concerto. He retreated to much of the harmonic and melodic style of his A Minor Piano Concerto, and he dedicated his Cello Sonata to his brother John. Commentators have quibbled that the central movement of the sonata borrows much from the Homage March from Sigurd Jorsalfar, Op. 56. To the music’s credit, the entire work abounds in melodic richness that its national character insures in girth, vitality, and staying power. The martial first movement, Allegro agitato, utilizes the same motif in varying harmonic guises, all of which feed Segev’s instrument—particularly its low register—with musical manna from Heaven. Pohjonen’s liquid figures and Segev’s ardent passions demand we repeat the whole piece moments after we finish listening to the original run-through. Segev mentions in her program note her happiness with the recording venue, New York’s Academy of Arts and Letters, whose warm acoustic provides the most elegant sonic cocoon for this endeavor. Of some “historical” interest, in their only recital together, Pablo Casals and Artur Rubinstein performed this melodious sonata, which, in the words of Percy Grainger—who in Grieg’s opinion, often discovered more in his scores than Grieg himself—expresses “Grieg’s soaring ecstasy of yearning wistfulness.”