Julian Steckel: Kodály - Cello Sonata, Op. 8
Pianists have Liszt's sonata; cellists have Kodály's. The phenomenally gifted Julian Steckel performs a modern classic.
"Technically brilliant, with a wonderfully supple, luminous tone." FAZ
Includes HD Video & Audio files
Filmed at The Old Granary Studio, Norfolk on 6 September 2008
Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967) - Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8
1. Allegro maestro ma appassionato
2. Adagio (con grand espressiono)
3. Allegro molto vivace
HD Video and Audio – 30 minutes
Cameras – Jakob Ruhle and Tom Maine
Lighting – Jakob Ruhle
Audio recorded and mastered by Eric James for URM Audio
Video editing – Jakob Ruhle
Producer – Adrian Brendel
Assistant Producer – Matthew Jolly
Born in 1982, German cellist Julian Steckel is a fast rising star on the international concert scene. A prizewinner at many prestigious competitions, Julian Steckel has appeared with ensembles such as the Orchestre de Paris and the Radio Symphony Orchestras of Berlin, Stuttgart, Saarbrücken, Frankfurt, Warsaw and Copenhagen. Julian divides his career between chamber collaborations, frequent broadcasts and a burgeoning recording schedule.
He held the Boris Pergamenschikow Scholarship at Kronberg Academy and won the Top Cellist Prize at the Verbier Festival as well as a Borletti Buitoni Trust Fellowship Award in 2007.
In 2009, AVI-MUSIC released the collected works for cello and piano by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in a recording made with Paul Rivinius.
Most professional musicians are early starters. Music agents will wax lyrical about how so-and-so picked up the violin at the age of three; but to be honest, we've heard this too often to care.
Zoltan Kodály's formative experiences, however, would engage the attention of the hardest cynic. "I made my first instrument myself," he recalled in 1966. "I was hardly four years old when I took mother's draining-ladle, threaded strings into its holes and fastened them to the end of the ladle. On these strings I played the guitar and sang improvised songs..."
Kodály was born on December 16 1882 – a Hungarian who spent much of his childhood in what is now Slovakia. He was one of music's great folklorists: "Like their language, the music of the Hungarians is terse and lapidary, forming masterpieces that are small but weighty," he once remarked. Bela Bartok learned much at his side, and though their musical fortunes diverged markedly over the years, the two remained firm friends.
Kodály never seemed quite cut out for the Twentieth Century. Liszt was still active at his birth, Ligeti was on the rise at his death, yet Kodály's work stubbornly refuses to bow to any events in between, no matter how shattering they may have been. His music is history-proof. Bartok (an altogether more engagé figure) championed Kodály's essential values, often in the teeth of fierce, organised resistence. "It is possible that Kodály's music is not so 'aggressive' [as mine]," he wrote in 1921. "It is possible that in form it is closer to certain traditions; it is also possible that it expresses calm meditation rather than 'unbridled orgies'. But it is precisely this essential difference, reaching expression in his music as a completely new and original way of thinking, that makes his musical message so valuable..."
The point was well made, but it wasn't until five years later – with the international success of Kodály's Psalmus Hungaricus – that critics accepted that Kodály, far from plagiarising Bartok, possessed a distinct, yet profoundly Hungarian musical voice.
The Sonata for cello ought to have been enough. If we ignore Max Reger's Suites (and who wouldn't?) Kodály's is the first major work for unaccompanied cello since Bach. It is original and shapely, it makes sensitive and inventive use of folk forms, and it exercises a cellist's technique superbly well, without ever turning ugly under the hands. (Kodály turns the two lower strings down a semitone to affect the piece's contest between B-major and B-minor, making him the first composer to muck about with the tuning since – yes – Bach.)
Dedicated to one of Hungary's leading cellists, Eugene de Kerpely, and first played by him in Budapest on 7th May 1918, the Sonata is, like all good music, a lot cleverer than it sounds. Bartok, ever Kodály's champion, wrote: "Here [he] is expressing, with the simplest possible technical means, ideas that are entirely original. It is precisely the complexity of the problem that offered him the opportunity of creating an original and unusual style, with its surprising effects of vocal type; though quite apart from these effects the musical value of the work is brilliantly apparent." The three movements are tightly linked by recurring motifs and intervals, though you'd be hard-put to keep track of them without the score. Much more likely, you will find yourself dreaming up an entire village-band-worth of exotic instruments, whose cadences and eccentricities Kodály superbly evokes: drones, shepherd pipes, cimbalons, zithers...
Once it was done, Kodály never wrote another piece in this form again.
Ethan Ames, 2008