Natalie Clein is a great proponent of uncommon repertoire. She has recorded Kodaly's wonderful solo cello sonata and she has recorded Bloch's well known Schelomo, amongst many other things. It was news to me that Bloch wrote these three suites for solo cello. The works fill two thirds of this new Hyperion CD and this has given her the opportunity to fill up with two really unusual pieces by Dallapiccola and Ligeti. With her advocacy, a recording of startling realism, and a programme of such interest this ought to do very well indeed. I would go so far as to say that those who have not strayed far from the six Bach Cello Suites should pluck up the courage to hear this disc. The Bloch suites are imaginative, emotionally charged and not at all difficult to follow. The Dallapiccola piece shakes its fist a bit but falls comparatively easily on the ear. The Ligeti is an early piece, an unsuccessful gift to a girlfriend it seems, and apart from several unusual slides is no more of a challenge than Bartok and besides, it is only 8 minutes long.
The real treasure is the Bloch. The 1st suite is quite Bach-like but of course the harmonies are much more rich and modern. The Canzona is a lovely movement and like the other movements it is very easy to enjoy. The 2nd suite is tougher, insofar as it owes less to the older traditions but it has such emotional power that it grips the listener. The very end is a sort of musical question mark to leave one thinking. The 3rd suite has five short movements which are played without a break, which gives this final work a more rhapsodic feeling as the moods change and merge. Like the 2nd this is a passionate work which rewards one's attention.
Luigi Dallapiccola's Ciaccona, Intermezzo e Adagio comes as a bit of a shock if one allows the disc to play on directly. The grinding opening of the Ciaccona announces clearly that this Italian composer is very much of the 20th century. However, this chaconne is full of colourful effects that make for very enjoyable listening and make the closing, and unexpected, C major chord a nice touch of musical humour. The Intermezzo is a scherzo and trio structure with spikey outer sections around a brief, calmer centre section. It is followed by an Adagio which is reminiscent of Berg's beautiful Violin Concerto which also makes much play with series of bare fifths. It moves to a quiet, thoughtful ending.
Ligeti's solo sonata has two movements, the first of which was originally a love gift as noted above. Not wanting to waste the effort , the composer added a moto perpetuo—with one or two pauses for breath—which provides Natalie Clein with a chance to show off her technical skills. Like the Dallapiccola Ciaccona this movement ends unexpectedly on a simple chord, this time G major, and brings a smile to the listener. I was reminded by both Dallapiccola's and Ligeti's text-book moments of Penderecki's Polymorphia for 48 strings which also spends all but the last chord in the extremes of disharmony only to resolve as grandly as a symphony by Beethoven on a proper chord!
Natalie Clein is a magnificent player and her famously gorgeous cello, the "Simpson" Guadagnini of 1777, sounds just as good as one knows it does from her recent Bach recitals in Southampton.