JANACEK: Prohadka, Presto; KODALY: Sonata for Cello; GRIEG: Cello Sonata – Danjulo Ishizaka, cello/ Shai Wosner, piano – Onyx Classics 4120, 75:23 (7/8/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

This listenable CD from Onyx is at first a seemingly odd collection of composers for a program of cello and piano music. Janacek and Kodaly made some programmatic sense, but then Grieg appears.

What ties it all together is a theme of music based on the folk idiom, and then the program starts to make sense. All three composers’ music reflects their geography and culture. Kodaly is Hungarian, Janacek is Czech. Folklore-based compositions are a major factor in their music. So too with Norwegian composer Grieg.  While all the composers are very familiar to me, none of this music is, so it is a welcome chance to hear these works for the first time.

Cellist Danjulo Ishizaka, a former BBC Radio3 New Generation Artist, is a rising musical star. He made his Vienna Musikverein debut in 2003, his BBC Proms debut in 2006 and has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York. In 2012,  Ishizaka was awarded the Hideo Saito Memorial Fund Award, one of Japan’s most prestigious music awards. For his Onyx Classics debut, Ishizaka is joined by pianist Shai Wosner.

The performances are committed and colorful. The recorded sound is generally natural. I thought the cello sound was very well captured, although the piano seems a bit wide and unnaturally spread between the left and right speakers. The result is a  very slightly bloated soundstage. It doesn’t detract from the fine performances, and most people won’t be bothered.

The Grieg Cello Sonata is particularly energetic and well played, but all the music is very well-executed. Despite the diversity of the composers, the program does feel quite unified and listenable as a whole.

—Mel Martin