“Cellobration” = Mendelssohn: Auf Flügeln des Gesanges; Carl Davidoff: At the Fountain; Henry Eccles: Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor; Granados: Playera; FaurÉ: Élégie, Op. 24; Ligeti: Sonata for Cello Solo; Bach: Aria from Pastorella in F Major, BWV 590; Glazunov: Chant du Ménéstrel, Op. 71; Couperin: Pièces en Concert; Pablo Casals: Song of the Birds – Amit Peled, cello / Eliza Ching, piano – Centaur CRC 3047 [Distrib. by Naxos], 59:30 ****:
“Something Borrowed: Transcriptions for Cello and Piano” – Jonathan Aasgaard, cello / Ian Buckle, piano [TrackList below] – MSR Classics MS 1378 [Distr. by Albany], 71:43 ****:
These discs offer the marriage of original compositions and the arranger’s art and in doing so follow the tried-and-true formula for marriages: There’s more than a little borrowed, clearly, but there’s also something blue (Fauré’s Élégie and Chopin’s Nocturne), something old (Eccles’ Sonata and Couperin’s Pièces en Concert), and something new (pianist Ian Buckle’s transcription of three Quilter songs, presumably getting their first airing on disc). Of the two recordings, Amit Peled’s is either more eclectic or more of a grab-bag, depending on your predilections. Certainly, in combining lighter and heavier fare, plus music that spans the periods from the Baroque to the twentieth century, the program doesn’t stint on variety.
The older music is presented in arrangements, the Eccles (I believe) arranged by Scottish composer Alfred Moffat, the Bach arranged by Pablo Casals, and the Couperin presented in a realization by French cellist and pedagogue Paul Bazelaire. The Eccles Somata, supposedly influenced by early Baroque composer Giovanni Valentini, nonetheless has a hearty Englishness about it, at least in Moffat’s arrangement, except for the last movement, which surprisingly calls to mind (at least to my mind) a fandango. The disc cements this impression by next offering the very Spanish Playera of Granados. The two pieces make a dynamic duo, playing off one another as they do. This seems to be the modus operandi on the Peled disc, a recital that juxtaposes contrasting works that nonetheless throw some interesting light on one another. For example, Fauré’s passionately Romantic lament is followed by Ligeti’s equally impassioned solo work, an avant-garde revolt against the doctrinaire musical formulas espoused by the Soviet Empire. (Completed in 1953, Ligeti’s Sonata had to wait thirty years for its debut.) Similarly, Bach’s stately Aria is followed by the ripe Romantic harmonies of Glazunov’s Minstrel’s Song, both singing but in very different ways.
Some of the arrangements are less successful than others. For instance, Mendelssohn’s song is usually heard in transcription for violin (or flute), where it seems to soar a bit more than in the cello transcription, which sounds earthbound when it wants to take flight. On the Aasgaard disc, there are pluses and minuses in the transcription of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. The Moderato opening sounds especially somber, imbued with smoldering Gypsy fire. But then in the Allegro molto vivace, those sixteenth-note leaps and runs seem almost too much for the cello—with its fat, juicy tones—to negotiate comfortably. And this has nothing to do with Jonathan Aasgaard’s playing; he shows his mettle in Sarasate’s equally flashy Zapateado. Yet unless you’re a purist and insist on hearing the Eccles and Couperin works, for instance, in their original garb with continuo accompaniment, both discs offer a good many enticements. I was almost as happy to make the acquaintance of Carl Davidoff’s smiling little character piece as I was to get to know Ligeti’s uncompromisingly dissonant Sonata. And I was surprised to hear how well Ravel’s Alborada translates form piano to cello and piano; it seems to have added Spanish flare in Castlenuovo-Tedesco’s snappy arrangement.
Many of the transcriptions on both discs emphasize song, and both cellists sing with an attractively rich and centered tone. Amit Peled has the heaviest lifting to do, in Ligetti’s demanding work, but Rimsky-Korsakov and Sarasate challenge Jonathan Aasgaard as well, and he acquits himself admirably in each case.
The cellists get fine ringing support from their accompanists. Eliza Chang is a piano coach and widely featured performer, Ian Buckle a teacher at Leeds and Liverpool Universities and a much sought-after accompanist and chamber player.
Both recordings were inscribed in a church setting, but the Aasgaard-Buckle recording wins this contest. The pair are given equal billing, and right off the bat you can savor the colorful piano part in the Ravel transcriptions. Peled clearly gets top billing on his disc. There’s a glamour to his sound that isn’t shared by his partner, who’s forced to work in the shade. That’s a pity, given the quality of Ms. Chang’s playing, but it doesn’t detract too greatly from an interestingly varied recital, well executed. Whichever program you choose—or go ahead and choose both—you’ll be entertained, I’m sure.
TrackList (“Something Borrowed”):
Ravel (arr. Castelnuovo-Tedesco): Alborada del Gracioso (from Miroirs)
Ravel (arr. Paul Bazelaire): Pièce en forme de Habanera
Fauré (arr. Pablo Casals): Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1
Sarasate (arr. W. Thomas-Mifune): Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20
Rachmaninoff (arr. Leonard Rose): Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14
Rimsky-Korsakov (arr. Leonard Rose): Flight of the Bumble Bee (from Tsar Saltan)
Shostakovich (arr. L. Atovm’yan): Adagio (from The Limpid Stream, Op. 39)
Schubert (arr. Gaspar Cassado): Allegretto grazioso
Roger Quilter (arr. Ian Buckle): 3 Songs: Now sleeps the crimson petal, Op. 3 No. 2; Go, lovely rose, Op. 24 No. 3; Music, when soft voices die, Op. 25 No. 5
Szymanowski (arr. P. Kochanski): Song of Roxana (from King Roger)
Chopin (arr. Gregor Piatigorgsky): Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. Posth.
Sarasate (arr. Leonard Rose): Zapateado Spanish Dance, Op. 23 No. 2
Bach (arr. Zoltán Kodály): Ach was ist doch unser Leben (from Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele, BWV. 743)
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 – Eduard van Beinum – Pristine Audio
A historic rendering of Bruckner’s 9th