It is evident to cellists that most composers have had little experience with the physical act of playing the instrument, and thus performance technique, as a source of inspiration, supplied little direction to their writing. The three works on this recording deviate from this shortcoming to marvelous effect.
The Sixth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello by J. S. Bach was written ca. 1720, at a time when Bach was happiest and most productive. Employed by Prince Leopold in Cöthen as Director of Music, he had few fixed obligations and was mostly free to pursue his own compositional interests. One of these interests was to experiment with the cello, to understand it, and exploit its capabilities. Although the most involved and complex of the cello suites is the Fifth, it is the Sixth Suite that is the most adventurous and which best blends a virtuoso style with compositional perfection in baroque form.
The Grande Étude Symphonique by Louis Abbiate (1866–1933) is the culminating composition in his pedagogical course on cello playing, coming after some 300 pages of preliminary studies. Other than the Kodály solo cello Sonata, this is the only work I know of in which a cello alone evokes a symphonic texture. A unique variety of physical techniques are required of the performer and I have never encountered some of these techniques elsewhere. The structure is cyclical but successively builds upon itself and extracts more and more potential from the whole range of the instrument. In a remarkable turnabout that would not typically satisfy the ego of a virtuoso, and unlike other compositions of tremendous difficulty that end with a grand finale, this piece changes direction to finish with a peaceful ascent that floats us away into eternity.
Mon Cirque by cellist and composer Paul Tortelier (1914–1990) is music clearly inspired by the act of cello playing itself. Almost every passage uses hand movements and finger dispositions that would occur only to an expert cellist, fiddling with the instrument, searching to discover new, captivating combinations. The result is the development of an exceptionally rich and colorful palette which Tortelier uses to portray circus acts in musical form. As Bach employs different voices, and Abbiate demonstrates orchestral textures, Tortelier with greater explicitness imitates circus performers. This is Tortelier’s most brilliant work and more, it is one of the most successful pieces of program music written for cello by any composer.
The artistry of Peter C. Dzialo, cello
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