Schwabe & Weiss Play Kodály & Ligeti

cover 8574202

KODÁLY: Duo for Violin & Cello.* Solo Cello Sonata. LIGETI: Sonata for Solo Cello / Gabriel Schwabe, cel; *Hellen Weiss, vln / Naxos 8.574202

German cellist Gabriel Schwabe, accompanied by violinist Hellen Weiss (spelled Weiβ on the album), here play cello works by Zoltán Kodály and György Ligeti. I would have said “well known” works, but the Kodály Duo, dating from 1914, is not as well known as his solo cello sonata from the following year, and this was the one work I was not familiar with prior to hearing this release.

It has always rather surprised me that, although he is acknowledged as a great composer and played with some regularity, Kodály is somehow less celebrated than his good friend and fellow-composer Bela Bartók. I think that Bartók’s earlier demise has something to do with it, because really, both were outstanding composers in the new Hungarian style, using the Magyar folk tunes that both collected on cylinder recordings as the basis for their work. Another reason may be that Kodály’s later years were heavily involved in writing choral music which is something that Bartók seldom explored.

Another reason may be Kodály’s stronger connection to traditional construction of his works. For all their innovative harmony, he was at heart more of a classicist than Bartók, who broke the mold more frequently. This Duo, beautifully played by Schwabe and Weiβ, is a perfect example. Remove the harsh Hungarian folk music harmonies and it might have been a piece by Beethoven in terms of thematic use and development. This doesn’t make it derivative, but it does make it a little less radical than Bartók’s music, though the Bartók of the 1910s was not yet the Bartók of the mid-1920s through the 1940s. The one thing that surprised me was how this work concentrates on slow-moving figures: both the second and third movements are set in slow tempi, with the third and last finally moving towards an “Allegro” about three minutes in.

The early (1948-53) sonata for solo cello by Ligeti also has ties to the Bartók-Kodály school of composition, but with the strange microtonal portamenti one can already sense that he was starting to move in a different direction. Schwabe’s performance is a very good one though not quite as deeply felt as the one by cellist-pianist Elena Gaponenko.

Interestingly, except for the microtonal slides, Kodály’s solo cello sonata bears some resemblance in style, if not in form or structure, to the Ligeti work. Schwabe is also quite good in this piece as well, though again Gaponenko just edges him out.

A fine CD, then, and an excellent showcase for young Schwabe as well as a sample of Weiβ’s excellent playing.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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