By Mary Nemet | From the September-October 2020 issue of Strings magazine
In this issue we look at new printed music including Gabriel Fuaré’s warmly elegant Sonata No. 1 in D minor for cello and piano, Ferdinand Ries’ challenging Three Russian Airs with Variations for cello and piano, a magnificent boxed set of Beethoven’s chamber music with string instruments.
Gabriel Fauré: Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109, for Cello & Piano
(G. Henle Verlag, $24.95)
With an interest in chamber music spanning his entire career, from his Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 13, (1877) to his final string quartet (published posthumously in 1925), Gabriel Fauré translated his exquisite gift for song to strings and piano in his cello sonatas. With a sensitive understanding of the cello’s tonal and emotional range, his beautiful themes undergo chameleon-like changes of texture and mood, subtle and elusive.
The first cello sonata in D minor, Op. 109, is loved in chamber-music circles for its warm eloquence.
Primarily focused on chamber music in the last decade of his life, Fauré finished his first cello sonata as the culmination of a work he had envisaged 37 years earlier when writing his Elegie, Op. 24, for cello and piano. Despite his precarious health and onerous duties as director of the Paris Conservatoire, Fauré completed the sonata’s first two movements in two weeks.
He penned the third and final movements in the following three weeks and promptly sent the manuscript to his publishers, Durand, from his holiday resort in Saint-Raphael in August 1917. “It seems to me that I work more swiftly and easily, the older I get,” he said.
The premiere’s reception in 1917, given by pianist Alfred Cortot and André Hekking on cello, was rather muted. However, today the work is regarded as one of the masterpieces of late Fauré. A sister to his Second Violin Sonata, he drew upon themes from his discarded D-minor Symphony of 1884.
Each shares a concise, invigorating opening movement followed by an evocative, lyrical Andante and a charming, cheerful Finale with a variety of tonal effects, perfectly balancing the whole. Tinged with Fauré’s sadness at a time of emotional turmoil, alternately yearning, dramatic, and dreamily nostalgic, clarity, poetry, and restraint characterize his sonata, underpinned by his unique atmospheric harmonic language.
Refined workmanship, elegance, and constantly shifting colors redolent of impressionism are Fauré’s hallmarks in this exquisitely wrought work, belying any sign of an aging master. Some critics would say that his late works tended toward sobriety—asceticism even, with the writing leaner and sparer than before, as the composer lost his hearing. However, this beautiful sonata remains quintessential Fauré, standing tall with his predecessors in the sonata genre of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms.
Henle’s critical scholarly editions give this gem of the cello repertoire its full due in a generously laid out score and parts. Cellists will welcome this fastidiously edited publication containing two cello parts, one fingered and bowed by David Geringas. Henle’s publication includes an informative preface and extensive comments detailing the sonata’s history and sources.
Ferdinand Ries: Three Russian Airs with Variations, Op. 72, for cello and piano
(Paladino Editions, €15.95)
The German composer Ferdinand Ries was a friend, pupil, and secretary to Ludwig van Beethoven. Today his name is rarely mentioned without a reference to his mentor. However, Ries composed seven symphonies in his own right as well as a violin concerto, nine piano concertos, three operas, and numerous other works in many genres, including 26 string quartets.
In 1838 he published a collection of reminiscences of his teacher Beethoven, co-written with Franz Wegeler. Ries’ symphonies, some chamber works (most of them with piano), his violin concerto, and his piano concertos have been recorded, demonstrating a style which is, unsurprisingly, due to his connection to Beethoven, somewhere between those of the Classical and early-Romantic eras.
Better known as a concert pianist in tours throughout Europe and Russia, and a director of the London Philharmonic Society, Ries did not see much of his music performed—perhaps not unexpectedly, living in the shadow of the great master. Ries penned these Three Russian Airs while on tour in Russia with cellist Bernhard Romberg in a momentous year, 1812. They had to cancel some of the planned concerts when Napoleon invaded Moscow, escaping with their lives.
Although Ries’ letters indicate he wrote the Airs for Romberg, he in fact dedicated them to the prominent English pianist and cellist Charles Neate. It’s a virtuoso display piece for both instruments and a potpourri of three Russian tunes: a folk song, a distinctive dance called Kamarinskaya, and the same familiar Russian theme that Beethoven used in the third movement of his string quartet, Op. 59, No. 2.
The Airs begin magisterially with virtuoso piano runs underpinned by march-like dotted rhythms and interspersed with sparkling short cadenzas before the cellist imitates the keyboard part in similar brilliant fashion. Each then displays his technical prowess in turn. Ries certainly turns the simple songs and dances into a breathtaking display for both instruments.
Page-turns in the cello part are appropriately organized at rests, while the pianist during 399 bars, with the exception of two solitary bars’ rest, has to contend with a continuous flurry of chromatic runs and sizzling passagework. The keyboard indeed has the lion’s share.
This Paladino edition, edited by Martin Rummel and Cole Tutino, aims to produce a modern, practical text, providing two cello parts: one marked according to the original, affording historical insight, and one that is designed for today’s practical use with added fingerings by Rummel.
Here’s a handsome if challenging acquisition to the cello repertoire. —MN
Ludwig van Beethoven: Chamber Music with String Instruments
(G. Henle Verlag, $189.95)
The esteemed publishing house of Henle commemorates Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year with this magnificent boxed set of 13 study scores. Based on the new complete edition of the composer’s works by Egon Voss in 2008, many subsequent editors, researchers, and musicians such as Steven Isserlis, Mi-Kyung Lee, Ani Kavafian, and Robert D. Levin have contributed to this most recent edition—a veritable cornucopia of chamber-music treasures.
From his duos and string trios, through the iconic string quartets, the sextet, and the septet, each score is fastidiously printed, together with a preface in German, English, and French, while some have comments detailing primary sources and explanations of markings. The relatively unknown Trio in C, Op. 87, for two violins and viola is taken from the original version for two oboes and horn, a scoring very much in vogue in Vienna at the time. Dating from 1797, both versions were published by Artaria in 1806, both authorized by the composer. A delightful Allegro and jovial Minuet entirely suit either combination of instruments.
Almost all of Beethoven’s groupings for two or three strings originated before 1798, prior to his ineffable quartets that are so central to his oeuvre. The two-movement Duo in E flat for viola and cello, WoO32 (whimsically nicknamed, “Duet with two obligato eyeglasses”); tiny fragments of a Duet for two violins, WoO34; and a Canon for cello and another instrument; together with a 152-bar fragment for violin and cello, are found at the back of the string-trio score.
The Opp. 3, 8, and 9 string trios stand tall in the genre. Despite commissions and requests for string quartets, these wonderful trios were clearly conceived in three parts. Opus 3 in E-flat major of 1794–5 shares the same key as Mozart’s inimitable Divertimento, which probably served as the model, with its same six-movement divertimento style. The Serenade, Op. 8, was popular with audiences of the time and, with its jaunty tunes in six short movements, attracted numerous transcriptions for various combinations. With his final three Op. 9 trios, Beethoven consolidated the genre as equal to the string quartet and this grouping under a single opus reflects his imagination and technical assurance.
The quartets are laid out in all their splendor from the Op. 18 to the final Op. 135. The three lesser-known string quintets range from Op. 4 to Op. 104 with an additional 83-bar Fugue dating from 1817, and an even shorter 53-bar unfinished segment of an intended quintet penned at the same time.
The unique Sextet, Op. 81b, for two horns and string quartet, and the glorious six-movement Septet in E-flat (a prevalent key throughout these works) bring up the rear guard in this collection.
Beethoven chamber-music aficionados will treasure this unique set that will surely win pride of place on the studio bookshelf. Parts are also available. —MN
The Karen Tuttle Legacy
(Carl Fischer, $34.99)
Throughout her stellar career as a teacher and performer, violist Karen Tuttle (1920–2010) was a driving force and guiding light for generations of students. In this all-embracing resource for viola pupils, teachers, and performers, her past students give detailed insight into the many facets of her personality and teaching.
In her long career, Tuttle was invited by Pablo Casals to take part in his renowned Prades Festival, where she returned at least seven times to perform with the world’s greatest chamber musicians. Among other achievements, she had a long association with the Curtis Institute as both a student and faculty member, studying with William Primrose before becoming his assistant. She also taught also at Juilliard, the Peabody Institute, and elsewhere.
Debuting as soloist at Carnegie Hall in 1960 and a member of the Schneider and Galimir quartets, Tuttle was praised for her incisive musicianship and large, luminous sound. But it was Tuttle’s singular approach to her instrument as a teacher for which she is most remembered. In this book, former students Jeffrey Irvine, Kim Kashkashian, Michelle LaCourse, Lynne Ramsey, Karen Ritscher, and Carol Rodland pay tribute to their illustrious teacher by way of detailed analyses of her methods. Focusing on how to attain the expression of deep feeling and great physical comfort, her two abiding mantras, these goals drew disciples worldwide. Their application is explained via drawings, illustrations, and photographs, as well as detailed text. Each of the contributors is now a renowned performer and teacher in his or her own right.
In 15 chapters, every facet of viola technique is rigorously discussed and sharply analyzed. Stance, finger action and left-hand concepts, intonation, shifting and vibrato, double-stops, trills, and above all, ease of playing and tone production are clearly addressed. Musical works mentioned in each segment are listed, together with suggested études and exercises.
Appendices contain full-page scores of Schradieck, Dounis, Reger, Telemann’s Fantasia No. 1, and Enescu’s Concertstück; they refer to the various shifting, bow, and phrasing suggestions in earlier chapters. Appendix D lists videos of Tuttle available on the internet. Of particular interest in Appendix E are interviews with Tuttle and various articles by and about her.
If you need advice on any facet of viola technique, then this is the book for you—a complete compendium of every aspect of viola playing. It is also a fine and moving tribute to one of America’s great viola and chamber-music pedagogues, whose deep passion, love for music, and holistic approach inspired so many and helped put the viola firmly on the world map. —MN