Dohnanyi, Janacek, Shostakovich: “Slavic Soul” ‘ Fernando Arias (cello) & Noelies Rodiles (piano); Eudora SACD 2106, 10/21 66:30 ****½
Here is what I would like to hear in a chamber music recital: A new piece, something by a favorite composer that is just outside his most well-known works, and one absolute masterpiece within the genre. The newest release on the Spanish audiophile label, Eudora just about ticks all of these boxes. Moreover it introduces two very talented performers who will most likely be new to the readers of these pages: Fernando Arias on cello and Noelia Rodiles on piano. They rise to the considerable technical and artistic challenges of three pieces and deliver deeply communicative performances that I will return to many times.
Eudora is a small company in Madrid that is especially good at recruiting Spanish musicians and bringing them into a chamber music paradise of an auditorium in Zaragoza in front of a skillfully operated pair of Schoeps and Pearl microphones. Preparation for these recording events must be prodigious but the result is always that of the best concert one could experience and a particularly good seat in the house. Once again this was achieved and the instruments are perfectly captured in balance with a gorgeous ambience; One thing that really stands out about these eudora recordings is the detail in the pianissimo. Few recordings can really distinguish between p and pp. This label has made that a recognizable feature of their sound.
The first piece on offer is the opus 9 Sonata for cello and piano by Ernst von Dohnanyi. Written in 1899 it sounds a great deal like Brahms. Indeed, the young piano virtuous had been embraced by Joachim and Brahms at a time when they were significant arbiters of taste. This long work in 4 movements is an able summary of the late Romantic style. A notable piano virtuoso at a young age, the 22 year old composer of this work shows determination to make the cello an equal partner. Dohnanyi typically likes to avoid any sense of boredom; the themes race and twist and turn with a nervous energy whether of youth or Modernism one cannot say. There is at times the declamatory style of Brahms’ two sonatas; this performance might send the listener in pursuit of those works for comparison. The first movement is almost an overload of lyrical magniloquence and dramatic utterance commented on by florid accompaniment. The three minute adagio is a welcome basking in autumnal mood; here it is Brahms melodious string sextet which might be the inspiration.
The Scherzo too allows for no wringing out of the withers. The horse gallops along. Here one realizes just how well matched these musicians are. There is plenty of athleticism and high spirits on display. The perfect intonation of the cello is all the more impressive on the romping sections.
The second piece is a 12 minute Pohadka “fairy tale” by Leos Janacek. I am the biggest fan of this Czech composer on my block and listen avidly to his piano music, the quartet and Taras Bulba, Mladi and often force other people to listen to them too. All the more surprising that this work from Janacek’s maturity has eluded me. It is a striking piece, especially the second con moto movement which evokes mood and imagery of a folklore world to great effect. Janacek invented his own private language of melancholy. “So many odd intervals” commented one astute Janacek commentator; some of it may be the irregularity of Moravian folk music but most of it is just the composer’s own quirky musical sensibility.
Shostakovich sonata for cello and piano opus 40 was written exactly at the moment of his existential crisis having run afoul of the Stalin regime. It precedes the great run of quartets that start with his second and became the private music of this composer who had to learn to wear so many masks. Some of the qualities that make the second and third string quartet universally beloved and easy to grasp for complete novices are here. Strong rhythmic and melodic ideas supported by a modest harmonic argument. Is this a masterpiece of the cello literature? I am not sure. It is more ingratiating than the vehement works that follow it. With Shostakovich we are always on the alert for the forced smile. This listener finds just a hint of that here. But it is certainly a fine work and in the hands of these superb performers it feels like the culmination of a most satisfying recital.
Overall a thrilling debut for this outstanding cellist and an excellent follow up by the pianist to her recital last year “The Butterfly” effect for this same first rate label.
— Fritz Balwit
Please support the artists and this site by purchasing from Eudora