Kodály – Dutilleux – Britten – Oren Shevlin – cello – CC5046
£9.99 – £15.99
Andre Previn described Oren Shevlin as a ‘wonderful ‘cellist’ and ‘remarkable musician’, whilst his recital at the Wigmore Hall hailed by “The Strad” as ‘astounding’, has demonstrated a formidable technique and his ability to tackle the most difficult contemporary works”
“This is a gem of a CD recorded in Colin’s favoured acoustic” -“truthfully recorded sound”
“The recording is quite beautiful and makes one wonder why anyone bothers with surround sound when plain stereo CD can sound this spacious without losing the tight focus of the cello at the centre of the stereo stage”
Zoltán Kodály (b. Kecskemét 1882; d.Budapest 1967)
Sonata for Violoncello Solo, Op.8 Allegro maestoso ma appassionata Adagio (con grand’ espressione) Allegro molto vivace.
In the Sonata for Violoncello Solo Op.8, composed in 1915, Kodály championed a form greatly neglected since Bach’s unaccompanied works of two centuries earlier. It is his illustrious compatriot Béla Kodály who refers to its original and unusual style, simple technical means that cut through the most complex problem – that of creating polyphony on an essentially single lined instrument – to give surprising vocal effects and a work of great brilliance.
Throughout the Op.8 Kodaly adopts the seventeenth and eighteenth century practice of scordatura; in this case the ‘cello’s two lowest strings are tuned a semitone lower – G to F sharp and C to B natural. There is no key signature but the chromaticism often disguises a leaning towards B major.
In what is an essentially improvisatory work, Kodály extends the use of harmony to its limit, for in the first movement, two, three and four part chords frequently connect fragments of melody to give dramatic point. A great variety of rhythmic groupings occur within the overall pulse of the music, with the different uses of the bow adding to the complex sounds that reach the ear.
During the Adagio, frequently changing time signatures provide contrast to the more stable Allegro, and Kodály exploits still further different harmonic groups, broken chords, fragments of melody above an alternating line, as well as constantly changing rhythmic figures. All this is offset by the extent of the ‘cello’s register that Kodály uses when the upper melody sings against a pizzicato chord stretched over more than an octave and a half.
In the almost drumbeat opening of the final Allegro frequently repeated harmonic groups, broken chords, extended tremolandi and a breathtaking use of the register of the cello bring this extraordinary sonata to a brilliant close. The Op.8 must rank as a great virtuosic achievement in any cellist’s repertoire. It also bears witness to Kodály’s unique experience gained from his research into the folk music of Hungary; for the folk influence is felt throughout.
Henri Dutilleux (Angers 1916)
3 Strophes on the Name of Sacher for Violoncello solo Un poco indeciso Andante sostenuto Vivace.
In 1976 Rostropovitch asked twelve composers to write a solo ‘cello work, each, as a tribute to Paul Sacher; whose seventieth birthday celebrations were to be held at the Tonhalle, Zurich. These were Conrad Beck, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Wolfgang Fortner, Alberto Ginastera, Cristobal Halffter, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holleger, Klaus Hubner and Witold Lutoslawski. Dutilleux, in 1982, extended his homage of 1976 by adding two more pieces.
This short suite’s title refers to the idea of return. The line between each verse is an expose of the letters of Sacher’s name, with a mirror technique being used in the last verse. Thus a reflection in musical terms is arrived at. There is also a brief quote from Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which Sacher had commissioned and premiered in 1937 in Basel. In this work the two lowest strings are tuned lower – G to F sharp and C to B flat.
The motto Sacher is provided by the notes Es A C H E Re (Es E flat, H, B, Re D). The first verse employs an enormous variation in time signatures, such as three eight, five eight, seven sixteen, in addition to a great variation in dynamics and use of ‘cello techniques. In contrast to the first verse, no time signatures are used in the second, but a predominant grouping of three quavers exists to give a common feeling of pulse.
In the last Vivace, although time signatures change in general a rhythmic grouping of three is kept in essence within each beat. In the opening verse Dutilleux announces the initial Es at the start, and continues to add the appropriate letters in various figures and time values, developing the ideas throughout. In the second verse, notes on the name Sacher are given a much more prominent place and treatment, while in the last verse Dutilleux reverses the letters after treating them in normal order – Sacher – Rehcas. Here, Dutilleux exploits the dynamics to the full through varied harmonic double stopping at the fifth, sixth and seventh to bring the work to a fortissimo climax.
Of the three composers Oren Shevlin has selected, it is Dutilleux who could be considered the most unusual, and perhaps the most inaccessible. He attaches great importance to ‘memory’ as such, and the way it is linked to variation, prefiguration and premonition.
In his use of form he declares he is influenced by Beethoven’s as also by the stylish effects of the Second Viennese School.
A fastidious craftsman in his approach to composition, with great individuality and attention to detail, Dutilleux’s oeuvre is as a consequence very small. Regarded as a composer of wide artistic culture, most of his commissions have come from international artists and organisations, where his exquisite judgement has been better appreciated. Hence the Three Strophes on the Name of Sacher.
Benjamin Britten (b. Lowestoft 1911, d. Aldeburgh 1976)
Suite for Cello, Op 72.
Canto primo; I Fuga. II Lamento; Canto secondo; III Serenata. IV Marcia; Canto Terzo; V Bordone; VI Moto Perpetuo e Canto Quarto.
The Suite for cello. Op 72 was composed by Britten in November and December 1964, and dedicated to Rostropovitch; with whom he performed at the Aldeburgh Festival of Music.
Using Bach as a model, the six movements, some in dance form, are framed by four Cantos, whose very different lengths – eighteen bars, six bars, seventeen bars, and short interjections in the fourth Canto, reveal Britten’s originality in dealing with what are essentially very similar melodic ideas, though not all at the same pitch, or implied key. The change in phrase lengths also provide a foil to the almost static quality of the rhythm.
It is in the intervening movements that Britten leaves the almost shapeless form of the Cantos to provide contrasting rhythm, tone and tempi. The enormous variety of time values in the first twelve notes of the Fuga, a lively two four, takes greater point as it leads to the pizzicato like treatment at the end of the phrase. By contrast the sustained and plaintive notes of the E minor Lamento (rubato) have a timeless quality as they undulate to the short second Canto.
The dancing six-eight of the Serenata with its distinctly Spanish flavour supplied by its allegretto pizzicato and spread chords sees a complete change of mood as we hear the D major trumpet call of the Marcia, underpinned by an unexpected C natural in the drum bass. It is in this drum bass that the twelve eight time signature provides the most subtle alteration in the rhythmic pulse. From the sustained tones of Canto three, Britten now surprises the ear with the most unusual movement – the Bordone. Typical Britten mastery! A form deriving its origins from W Asia and Greece, it was connected to instruments such as the bagpipes, drone strings and a hurdy gurdy. In the Bordone, the sustained droning sound is usually tuned to the keynote or fifth of the melody, which sings above.
In this Bordone Britten shows his great genius for rhythmic originality. The heavy ‘pesante’ quality of the movement is nonetheless a foil to the flexibility of the recitative like treatment of the melody, written in nine-eight. In the last combined Moto Perpetuo and Canto Quarto, Britten jolts our emotions with a Presto three/four- eight, joined by episodes of the Sostenuto Canto sections which recall the first.
In every movement, Britten has used a different time signature to give this work the enormous rhythmic vitality that is so characteristic of his writing. Who can forget the compelling opening of the Ceremony of Carols, the dancing ideas of the Spring Symphony, or the terrifying motifs of the War Requiem whose rhythmic intensity is the epitome of the destruction of war. It is interesting to note the development of unaccompanied ‘cello works in the twentieth century.
Kodály used the three bottom strings – open – as an accompaniment to his folk melodies, while Reger whose cello writing was built on the tradition of the Bach suites, generally used a single line of counterpoint. In the second half of the twentieth century composition for the ‘cello was explored more deeply. Much was unaccompanied, and composers such as Ligetti, George Crumb, and Dutilleux brought their own individual stamp to some wonderful ‘cello literature. Britten’s association with Rostropovitch proved a very rich connection in this respect, as the Op 72 has several companions, some accompanied.
©2000 Jean Cochran
Born in 1969, in Oldham, Oren Shevlin is one of the most outstanding young musicians to have emerged from
England in the latter part of the twentieth century. After studying privately from the age of six he furthered his musical education at Chethams School of Music in Manchester and at the Royal Northern College of Music. He completed his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and the Hochschule fiir Musik in Cologne, both times receiving the highest honours possible. Over this period he was able to build up a formidable repertoire including over twenty concertos, and an equally broadbased list of ‘cello sonatas and music for solo ‘cello.
Though his repertoire shows an inclination towards twentieth century composers, he has been equally concerned to explore the music of composers from all periods of musical history.
He has been a finalist in Moscow in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition, second prize winner in Helsinki in the International PAULO ‘Cello Competition, third prize winner in the ARD competition in Munich, and prize winner in the 1997 Rostropovitch ‘cello competition in Paris.
When only ten years old, Oren Shevlin won the Madame Suggia International Award and subsequently appeared at the Royal Albert Hall. This early talent was confirmed by his participation in the Tortelier Master Class televised by the BBC.
In Germany where he now occupies the position of Principal Cellist in the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra based in Cologne, he has been awarded the Landgraf of Hessen Prize, and appeared at both the Kronberg ‘Cello and Schleswig Holstein Festivals.
A very highly praised debut recital in 1998 at the Wallace Collection in London has added to the international stature already attained by his concerto performances with numerous orchestras – Finnish Radio, Moscow New Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, WDR Symphony, Cologne Chamber, Deutsche Kammerakadamie, the Polish Chamber Philharmonic, and the Orchestra National de France.
Press criticism about his performances in “The Strad”, Hufvudstadsbladet, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, all bear witness to his supreme technical flair, a very considerable command of tone colour, and a range of dynamics that include the most sensitive of nuances. Recently Andre Previn described Oren Shevlin as a ‘wonderful ‘cellist’ and ‘remarkable musician’, whilst his recital at the Wigmore Hall in May 2000, hailed by “The Strad” as ‘astounding’, has demonstrated a formidable technique and his ability to tackle the most difficult contemporary works.
His teachers have included Raphael Sommer, Boris Pergamenschikow, Frans Helmerson, and he has participated in the masterclasses of Paul Tortelier, Janos Starker and Arto Noras.
Having already recorded with Naxos, in his current CD with Claudio Records, Oren Shevlin tackles three major works from twentieth century repertoire by Kodály; Britten and Dutilleux in a dazzling display of virtuosity. Oren Shevlin uses an Antonio Stradivari ‘cello of 1696, “Ex-Prince Gursky”, kindly loaned to him by Dr. Herbert Axelrod.
Music web International – Review (Aug 18)
This CD appears to be a reissue of a 2000 release in its original format and packaging, an observation also supported by its illustration and brief review in a 2013 article on this site concerning the Claudio label. On that occasion, it was enthusiastically received by Dave Billinge, singling out the Kodály sonata as worth the price of the disc.
My bearings for the Kodály work, often called the greatest for solo cello since the Bach suites, and once thought unplayable, were set many years ago when I recorded Rohan de Saram live in an unbridled, take-no-prisoners performance. That sense of wildness, undoubtedly fuelled by the frisson of the occasion, has been my yardstick ever since, seeming so intrinsic to the soul of this extraordinary piece. In the intervening years, I’ve heard and collected many versions, including Lluís Claret, Maria Kliegel, Pieter Wispelwey, Natalie Clein and, of course, Janos Starker, although I’ve not heard his 1956 account on Saga, which many hold to be the finest ever, and closest I would believe to Kodály’s vision, having also on occasion won the composer’s approbation.
Oren Shevlin, long-time principal cellist of the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, is clearly a very accomplished performer, and delivers Kodály’s masterpiece cleanly and confidently. Apart from the odd stray note (at 6:25 of the opening allegro, for example), his technical address and control are impressive. But while his reading is certainly not lacking passion, he does hang fire on occasion, the final cadence of the first movement, say, a little too perfunctory. In comparison to the digitally recorded competition, Shevlin comes across as more measured, mellow and lyrical, assisted by the kindly acoustic of his ecclesiastical setting. At a broader tempo initially, Clein is more inflected and, if Starker defines the benchmark, more idiomatically accented. Kliegel’s tone is wirier, but with an earthier feel to her playing and a greater sense, to me, of that essential abandon. Wispelwey I find a little over-blown, while Claret, at the swiftest of tempos, conveys urgency but little else. If the other works on this CD appeal, Shevlin’s Kodály can be recommended, but it’s one of those works that, once discovered, won’t be fully revealed by one recording alone.
After the shock and awe of Kodály’s sonata, Dutilleux’s three short pieces in tribute to Paul Sacher bring a more subdued and introspective mood, but as is soon revealed, no less demanding on the cellist, also exploring the full sonic possibilities of the instrument, as variations on the motto Es A C H E Re. While a somewhat less accessible work, one is again left in no doubt of Shevlin’s virtuosity and keen musical instincts. The same could also be said of Britten’s first unaccompanied cello suite, dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, which exemplifies the rough, gritty music of his latterday style. Within the language of the piece, one recognises its variety of inferences, the Spanish flavour in the rhythms of the Serenata, for example, and the droning sounds of the Bordone, emulating perhaps bagpipes or a hurdy gurdy. Shevlin applies his skill and sensitivities to great effect in this multi-faceted, demanding work, and while not possessing quite the authority of its dedicatee’s account on Decca, it has, not least, a more ingratiating recording.
If the combination of these works appeals or, say, you are looking for a new angle on the Kodály or Britten pieces in truthfully recorded sound, these are finely conceived and polished performances by Oren Shevlin that would serve admirably to introduce, or provide an alternative for, these three twentieth century masterpieces of the solo cello repertoire.
Music web International – Review (Oct 18)
This is a judiciously chosen group of 20th Century masterworks for solo cello. The Kodály is considered by some the greatest piece of the century with comparisons made to Bach’s Suites, thus there are many recordings. Britten’s three Cello Suites were all written for Rostropovich, the first two having been recorded by him. The Dutilleux has also been recorded many times. This is a crowded field but no one else has recorded the Kodály and Britten in particular together on one disc.
Kodály composed his Sonata in 1915. It is a large scale three movement piece lasting over half an hour and some consider it the composer’s greatest masterpiece. It has been championed in particular by János Starker whose performances Kodály himself regarded as virtually definitive. That has not stopped many another cellist adding it to their repertoire. Shevlin does not convey quite that amount of fantasy in his performance but it is played with consummate skill and huge power. It is worth the price of the disc alone, but there is so much more on this CD. The Britten Suite Op.78 is also given a weighty performance and its 23 minutes or so passes very quickly as Shevlin follows the composer’s myriad changes of mood. I found more of a conversational quality in Rostropovich’s Decca recording, as if he was playing two cellos both debating the minutiae of this fascinating work, but there is room for more than one view and Shevlin shows himself to be a leading interpreter along with many other more famous names. Even in the more impressionistic writing of Henri Dutilleux he shows a firm grasp of structure and the dense argument is sufficiently clear to make the Three Strophes a welcome addition. He plays this whole programme with extreme accuracy of both pitch and phrasing and with the richest tone. Make no mistake, this is a superb recital.
Oren Shevlin was a new name to me and at the time this recording was made (Autumn 2000) he was only just starting his ongoing commitment as principal cellist in the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne, possibly the leading German radio orchestra. At the time of writing he has served no less than two decades in the role with regular forays into solo and chamber music and with a particular bias towards 20th century repertoire.
Shevlin was apparently loaned the Stradivari cello of 1696 “Ex-Prince Gursky” on the understanding he would record with it. I am told he arrived at the Brighton church having walked from the station carrying this £2 million instrument and worked intensively over the next two days. The results are remarkable, the cello clearly excites the spacious acoustic of St Bartholomew’s, making for a very realistic, almost surround effect. The recording is just in stereo and is presented here as it was mastered at CD quality (16bit, 44.1 kHz). I mention this because most Claudio issues come in high resolution, 24 bit, versions as well as plain CD. Not this one. The notes are detailed and a very useful guide to this complex music.
This is a gem of a CD recorded in Colin’s favoured acoustic, that of St Bartholomew’s Church in Brighton. The programme is interesting of itself and the cellist is masterly. Oren Shevlin has been principal cello of the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne for about 15 years and has a notable career as soloist with orchestras around Europe. He has not made life easy for himself by recording these three works, the Kodaly and Britten being amongst the peaks of 20th century cello repertoire. It is worth buying for the Kodaly alone, which is performed with a level of skill and insight that takes the breath away. The recording is quite beautiful and makes one wonder why anyone bothers with surround sound when plain stereo CD can sound this spacious without losing the tight focus of the cello at the centre of the stereo stage.