Borralhinho Plays Early 20th-Century German Works

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STRAUSS: Cello Sonata in F. MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer (arr. for cello & piano). ZEMLINSKY: Cello Sonata in a min. / Bruno Borralhinho, cel; Christoph Berner, pno / Ark Produktion 38554

This CD features Portuguese cellist and conductor Bruno Borralhinho, who plays in the Dresden Philharmonic and conducts the Ensemble Mediterain.

And boy, does this CD start off with a bang! Both Borralhinho and his accompanist, German pianist Christoph Berner, dive into the Strauss cello sonata not feet-first but headfirst, playing as if their very lives depended on it. What drive, what excitement! And Borranhinho has one of those deep, rich, full tones, like British cellist Colin Carr, that I absolutely love. I think that Strauss himself would have embraced him after hearing this performance, which exhibits so much feeling and evident love for the music. And yes, this includes Berner at the piano, clearly one of the most exciting pianists I’ve heard (other than Michael Korstick) in a long time.

What the listener may not even notice is that the first movement of this sonata is rather simplistic, even formulaic, clearly not Strauss at his most inspired. It’s just a fun romp for the cello and piano. In the second movement, the music deepens in feeling but is no more interesting harmonically. The third movement, also playful, has more rhythmic variety than the first.

I’ve never liked “arrangements” of classical music for instrumental combinations that were never thought of by the composer, and although I admit that Borralhinho plays the living daylights out of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, I could care less. It’s a cycle for baritone with orchestra. The End. If you don’t like it, write you own piece for cello and orchestra. (I do hope the reader understands that I’m not condemning the cellist’s performance but the arrangement, which not only does not enhance the music but, worse, cheapens it. Sorry ‘bout that.)

The Zemlinsky sonata, which I hadn’t heard before, is clearly the meatiest piece on this CD, a well-written-and-developed piece which Borralhinho and Berner play with the same emotional commitment as the Strauss. Yet although it is a well-written work, I really can’t call it an interesting one; it goes on a bit too long in each movement and tends to say the same things over and over again. I think the correct word is, “turgid.” Yes, I do believe that’s it.

Still, this is a wonderful example of Borralhinho’s prowess as a cellist, and I recommend it for that reason.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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