Cello Recital: Hai-Ye Ni (Hai Ye Ni/ Helene Jeanney) (Naxos: 8.554356)
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Robert Schumann(1810-1856): Fantasiest??cke, Op. 73
Ludwig van Beethoven(1770-1827): Seven Variations on 'Bei Mannern,
welche Liebe f??hlen'from Mozart's Die Zauberflote, WoO46
Franz Schubert(1797-1828): Sonata in A minor, D. 821, "Arpeggione"
Felix Mendelssohn(1809-1847): Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58
David Popper(1843-1913): Elfentanz, Op. 39
FelixMendelssohn-Bartholdy knew both material and cultural privilege, though neithercould adequately explain the phenomenal musical gifts he demonstrated duringchildhood. Brought up in a stimulating intellectual ambience in Berlin, wherehis family moved from Hamburg soon after his birth, both he and his sisterFanny received every encouragement in their artistic and intellectualendeavours. As a boy Mendelssohn was taught by Cari Zelter, who introduced himto Goethe in Weimar, and when little more than a child composed a succession ofworks of misleading maturity, twelve String Symphonies, the Octet, anda concert overture, A Midsummer Night's Dream among them, which, intheir formal precision and melodic genius represent some of the mostastonishing creations of any adolescent composer.
Of Mendelssohn's threeworks for cello and piano, two were written for his younger brother Paul, atalented performer, who followed his father by becoming a banker. The earliestof the three, the beguiling yet wonderfully assured Variations Concertantes,Op. 17, dates from 1827, when Paul Mendelssohn was fourteenth. Eleven yearslater, Mendelssohn returned to the medium, producing the first of his two cellosonatas, the Sonata in B flat major, Op. 45, once again for his brother.
The second sonata, included here, was written in the final period ofMendelssohn's intense yet prematurely curtailed creative life. Altogether morerobust and imposing than its predecessor, the Sonata in D major, Op. 58is among Mendelssohn's finest creations. Composed in 1843, it received itsfirst public performance in London two years later, played by the celebratedItalian virtuoso Alfredo Piatti and the composer. The jubilant openingmovement, marked Allegro assai vivace, is in regular sonata form, andbegins with a forthright, emphatic motif, not unlike the beginning ofMendelssohn's Italian Symphony. The B minor Allegretto scherzando hasthe light-footed fairy mercurial quality of several earlier works and featuresmuch pizzicato writing for the cello. The G major Adagio developsarpeggiated piano chords as a chorale, upon which the cello reflects insonorous and impassioned recitative, before the Finale, Molto allegro evivace, rounds off the work in heady triumph.
Beethoven's works forcello and piano appear in each of his creative phases, beginning with his Opus5 Sonatas in 1796 and culminating in the monumental two sonatas thatfrom Opus 102 in 1815, the first works of his so-called later period. Of histhree variation sets for cello and piano, only the last, included here, fallswithin the new century. In 1801, Emanuel Schikaneder had opened his impressivenew Theater an der Wien, realising his long-held ambitions. The following yearhe staged there a new production of the opera which he had written with Mozartand with which his own name and the decoration of his new Theatre wasassociated, Die Zauberflote. In the ten years since the firstperformance the work had been performed two hundred times and most recently forthe first time, in 1801, at the Court Opera. The opera's remarkable popularityfound Beethoven turning to its again for a variation work, as he had with hisset of twelve variations on Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, in 1796. This second setof Mozart variations falls mid-way between the sonatas of Opus 5, and Opus 69,in 1807. The Andante theme is shared between the two instruments duringthe first four variations, in which the tempo remains constant, but the notelengths are varied. In the fifth variation the pulse provides effectivecontras! with the Adagio of the sixth. The final treatment of the theme,marked Allegro, ma non troppo, is memorable for an extended coda includinga new theme in C minor.
David Popper, the'Liszt of the Cello', enjoyed a sensational career as a virtuoso, and hisnumerous studies and pedagogical works may be said to have systematicallymodernised cello technique. Popper served as solo cellist of the Vienna CourtOrchestra between 1868 and 1873, and was married to the pianist Sophie Menter,perhaps Liszt's greatest protegee. Of Popper's many compositions, whichincludes several concertos, a set of caprices, numerous characteristicminiatures, and a superb Requiem for cello ensemble, the dazzling Elfentanz,Op. 39, is perhaps the best known; its timeless appeal as a bravura morceaude concert remains undiminished.
Robert Schumanncomposed what is generally considered to be the first great Romantic concertofor cello, the Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, in a mere two weeks in theautumn of 1850, shortly after assuming the position of director of music inD??sseldorf, at the suggestion of Ferdinand Hiller, who had preceded him there.
He was by no means a stranger to the instrument, having attempted it himselfwhen muscular weakness forced him to abandon all hope of becoming a pianovirtuoso. During 1849, Schumann had written three works which have becomestandard elements in the cello recital repertory, though curiously only in thecase of the five St??cke im Volkston ('Pieces in Folk-Song Style'), wasthe cello the composer's prescribed first choice. His Adagio and Allegro,Op. 70, was originally conceived as a virtuoso show-piece for the newlyperfected valve-horn, while the Drei Fantasiest??cke, Op. 73, included onthis recording were originally intended for clarinet and piano. Today bothworks are heard almost exclusively in their cello and piano versions.
The manuscript ofSchumann's Fantasiest??cke is dated 11th and 12th February 1849, whilethe Adagio and Allegro was ready by 14th February, and the former workwas played privately a week later by the Dresden clarinettist Johann Kotte,with Clara Schumann. From the direction attacca found at the end of the firsttwo of these ternary-form pieces, we may conclude that Schumann devised thework as a continuous three-section suite. Nonetheless, the character of each isemphatically defined. The first piece, Zart und mit Ausdruck ('Tenderand with expression'), in A minor, is nostalgic and contemplative; the second,Lebhaft, leicht ('Lively, light') is relaxed and sun-lit, while the finalsection, Rasch und mit Feuer ('Bold and with fire') is powerfullyassured and vigorous. The second and third are both in A major, and featureextended codas.
Franz Schubert, thegreat song-writer of the Western art music, was idolised by Schumann, yetdespite the glorious cello writing found in many of his chamber works, notablyin the great String Quintet in C major, D. 956, his name is linked withjust one substantial composition for this instrument, and then only by default.
Schubert's only addition to cello literature is a masterwork, indelibly touchedby his sublime genius. The Sonata in A minor, D. 821, was written in1823 for the recently invented arpeggione, a bowed hybrid of guitar and cellowith six strings and a finger-board with 24 frets, devised by the Vienneseinstrument-maker Johann Georg Staufer. History records the existence of asingle arpeggionist of note, one Vincenz Schuster, a virtuoso performer, whowrote the only known tutor for his instrument, which w