THUILLE: Sonata for Cello & Piano in D minor; TOVEY: Sonata for Two Cellos in G Major; and DOHNANYI: Sonata in B-flat Major Op. 8 – Marcy Rosen and Frances Rowell, cellos – Bridge

by | Jul 16, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

THUILLE: Sonata for Cello & Piano in D minor;  TOVEY: Sonata for Two Cellos in G Major;  and DOHNANYI: Sonata in B-flat Major Op. 8 – Marcy Rosen and Frances Rowell, cellos /Lydia Artymiw, piano – Bridge 9264, 74:39 ***1/2 [Distr. by Albany]:

One masterpiece and two curiosities from a label that wouldn’t have it any other way. The masterpiece is Dohnanyi’s 26-minute long Op. 8 Cello Sonata in a performance that takes its measure with an elegance of phrasing and restrained passion that make you wonder why it’s not heard in the concert hall, or recorded, more often. Artymiw conjures up gorgeous sounds from her Steinway while Rosen, a much admired soloist and longtime member of the Mendelssohn String Quartet, captures the slightly quirky, romantic nostalgia that suffuses so much of Dohnanyi’s music.

The curiosities are a Cello Sonata by Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907) and a Sonata for Two Cellos by Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940). The latter, by one of the 20th century’s greatest minds and most eloquent writers, was written for Casals and his lover at the time, Guilherminia Suggia. It has moments of rapt beauty in a retro Brahmsian vein (Tovey’s stock in trade as a composer), but occasionally sounds like note-spinning. It was composed during Tovey’s stay with Casals in 1912 at the great cellist’s summer home west of Barcelona when the other houseguests were Enrique Granados and the 20-year old Mieczyslaw Horzowski.

Whether it’s the first recording, it is certainly the first I ever heard of the music itself. The performance, in which Marcy Rosen is joined by Frances Rowell, gets the scale of the 20-minute musical gambol perfectly, loving and gently expansive. The Andante middle movement, a tribute to Casals, consists of variations on a Catalan folk song. The last movement, an entertaining contrapuntal game, pays delicious homage to Bach.

Thuille’s Sonata does not fare as well. As music, it exists in that high-flying, densely late Romantic, Richard Straussian chamber music realm. Quoting Grove, Thuille’s very important harmony book, which remained a standard text long after his death, “considers chords not merely in the conventional vertical harmonic sense but as horizontal contrapuntal textures.” Rosen and Artymiw make a valiant stab at it, but fail to completely convince.

The sound, although shy at low levels, speaks beautifully as the volume increases. It’s yet another proof of Judith Sherman’s producing artistry, while the venue, LeFrak Concert Hall at Queens College’s Copland School of Music has potential. David Grayson’s booklet notes are extremely useful, but would have benefited from a more engaging style.

All in all, this is an extraordinarily fine and enterprising release, which should be no surprise since Bridge specializes in such matters. Too bad that the ultimately thin value of the Tovey and the Thuille bring down the stars a bit.

–  Laurence Vittes

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