This is the fourth disc of a superbly played series; volume three was reviewed in Fanfare 35:1. Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth must eventually run out of material, but, despite the lesser-known names, there is as yet no sense of the barrel being scraped. Dirk Schäfer (1873–1931) was an internationally admired pianist during the early decades of the 20th century, despite being an intellectual, anti-virtuoso artist. His tastes were conservative for the time, both in his keyboard repertoire and his own compositions. The op. 13 Sonata (1909) begins in a strongly Brahmsian vein, and a wild finale, Allegro assai agitato, recalls German Romanticism from Beethoven to Reger. Yet the work is so original, so well crafted, and so lyrical as to disarm all criticism. One must be wary about making such judgments, as Hochscheid and Van Ruth have consistently displayed the ability to make anything they play sound like a masterpiece. I have seldom enjoyed a cello sonata so much.
Henriëtte Bosmans (1895–1952) was also a renowned pianist; she is best known today for many songs she composed late in life. The four-movement Cello Sonata (1919) is as formally conventional as Schäfer’s but a bit more harmonically adventurous. A lovely work with another adventurous, exciting finale, it nevertheless pales beside Schäfer’s potent sonata. Bosmans’s Trois Impressions (1926) are Cortège, Nuit calme , and En Espagne . They are freer, more colorful music than her sonata, although still another exciting finale doesn’t register as being particularly Spanish.
Bosmans’s Impressions were dedicated to the cellist Gérard Hekking (1879–1942), who had been solo cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and also the duo partner of Dirk Schäfer. This disc comes full circle with Hekking’s three pieces (published in 1933). More closely allied to French music than to German—lighter and more rhythmically perky—they exude a Gallic charm, including a few playful dissonances that are obviously meant to send a momentary chill down the listener’s spine.
Hochscheid and Van Ruth are perfectly attuned to all this music. She makes her cello sing as few since Rostropovich have, and he supplies grace and sparkle without ever intruding on the cello. But their foremost virtue is the understanding they bring to the music they play, all of which springs to life. One looks forward eagerly to anything they may perform, short of the Amsterdam telephone book. They are greatly aided by intimate, elegant recordings typical of MDG (of which Audiomax seems to be a subsidiary), so fine on stereo CD that SACD and surround sound are merely bonus points.
James H. North
Clofo, January 2012
Audiomax continues its invaluable hybrid disc survey of 19th and 20th century Dutch chamber music for cello and piano with this fourth installment. It features selections by three individuals who were best known in their day as outsanding performers. But proves pianists Dirk Schäfer (1873-1931) and Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) as well as cellist Gérard Hekking (1879-1942) were composers of considerable merit who contributed significantly to the cello repertoire.
The recital begins with Schäfer’s three-movement cello sonata of 1909, which was most likely inspired by Hekking, with whom he frequently concertized. The initial thematically memorable, tightly knit allegro immediately grabs the listener’s attention. And while there are places reminiscent of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), the music is considerably more adventurous from the harmonic standpoint than anything Felix ever wrote.
The next adagio is best described as a da capo aria or the cello, which sings a reflective melancholy melody (RM), and then a folkish ditty followed by a return to RM. All of this is set to a delicate captivating piano accompaniment, and couldn’t be more different from the rather stern finale. Here some severe thematic ideas are subjected to a rigorous development, ending this little known sonata on a more serious note than it began.
Two selections by Bosmans are next, beginning with her Trois impressions (Three Impressions, c. 1926), which is a triptych she dedicated to Hekking (see above). It consists of a gorgeous nocturnal centerpiece entitled “Nuit calme” (“Quiet Night”), highlighted between a somewhat impressionistic martial “Cortège (“Procession”), and fiery Iberian miniature called “En Espagne” (“In Spain”).
We then get her four-movement sonata of 1919 in a performance based on original handwritten material as the authenticity of the published version is in question. Oddly enough the theme opening the first allegro may bring to mind Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) The Bells (1913). Do you suppose Bosmans had all those Dutch carillons in mind when she wrote it? It dominates this dramatic movement, which ends quietly giving way to an allegretto that’s in essence a subdued scherzo. Delicate and whimsical, it’s succeeded by a sorrowful adagio, and busy final allegro having bravura passages for both performers. The latter concludes the sonata with a reference to that initial bell motif.
Considering Gérard Hekking’s connection with two of the preceding selections, it seems appropriate the concert should end with something by him. So as encores we get three of his occasional miniatures (c. 1933). Joujou mécanique (Mechanical Toy) is a delightful windup mouse that could have fallen out of Debussy’s (1862-1918) Toy Box (La Boîte à joujoux, 1913). While Danse campagnarde (Countryside Dance) and Danse pour les Sakharoffs (Dance for the Sakharoffs) are in turn appropriately rustic and balletic, ending this engaging disc on a light note.
As on the three previous volumes in this series, cellist Doris Hochscheid and pianist Frans van Ruth are featured here. Both are award-winning Netherlandic musicians who once again give us technically dazzling, totally committed performances of these rare Dutch treats. Mevrouw Hochscheid’s cello tone is superb, while Mijnheer van Ruth couldn’t be more supportive. No wonder he’s also known as one of today’s finest song accompanists.
In regard to the sound, first a note about Audiomax, which is a relatively new label. Atypically their choice of repertoire is left up to the artists, while the actual recordings are done by Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG). As we’ve noted before MDG makes some of the most natural sounding recordings in the business, so it’s not surprising these fall into that category.
Classical Net, 2011
Artistically, for the last three centuries, Holland has been more famous for its painters than its composers. While other countries, such as Germany, France and Italy, have given the world some of the most influential musicians ever, Holland has found it very difficult to emerge from the dominance of its larger neighbours. The reason may lie in the independence Dutch music has maintained over the centuries, and this may have caused this lamentable and most undeserving neglect. The last three decades have witnessed a renewed interest in Dutch music, and many recording houses have dedicated several issues to a healthy number of fine Dutch composers, especially those emanating from the last 150 years.
This fourth volume from MDG’s Audiomax cycle dedicated to Dutch Cello Sonatas is a gem, and incorporates works by three top-quality composers who were active around the turn of the last century, composers who had the courage to set out on a new path and forge a new language. Dirk Schäfer (1873-1931) premièred his Cello Sonata, Op. 13 in 1909. In three traditional movements, this work does not discard the romantic spirit, but with its rich polyphony and powerful forward drive it is also hinting at the future.
The Sonata by Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) premièred ten years later also thrives on the romantic tradition, but the gripping rhythmic structures that were to become a feature of her later work are also amply evident.
Gérard Hekking’s (1879-1942) three character pieces complete a disc full of surprising ideas and original musical twists.
Both soloists perform with unbridled zeal and exemplary precision, and their passionate enthusiasm for this repertoire is a cause for constant admiration. This is a splendid addition to this cycle in top-notch sound and presentation.