Music Web, February 2013
This is the fifth volume in a valuable series devoted to Dutch cello sonatas. Pijper, Röntgen, van Goens, Vermeulen and Escher are some of those already covered and now we reach two composers whose reputations are somewhat varied.Henk Badings is the better known. The geographer and palaeontologist followed his true path during his eventual musical studies — with Pijper, as it happens, with whom the younger man fell out over musical matters. The two sonatas are well worth reviving. The earlier dates from 1929 and adeptly straddles the classical/romantic stylistic divide. It’s a compact two-movement thirteen-minute work, the second movement of which houses a doughty dance motif amidst some melancholy vein of writing. There’s a little satiric throwaway passage too. The second sonata followed in 1935, the same year in which Badings’ Third Symphony was premiered by Willem Mengelberg. This is a more fluent and malleable sonata, occasionally hectoring, it’s true, but with the cello ruminating a great deal of the time in the lower register in the Adagio, which once again pursues a rather introspective line. The piano writing is quite wide ranging and apt. The finale is an ambiguous way to end things with hints of blue notes in the accompanying piano figures, and the music rather slithering its way to a close. Sem Dresden was born in Amsterdam in 1881, and was thus over a generation older than Badings. His training was the more conventional, studying with Pfitzner in Berlin. On his return to his native city he became a choral conductor and in time became director of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, a position he was forced to give up in 1941 when, as a Jew, he was stripped of his job and went to live in the suburbs of the city. Badings took over, though without malice, and for pragmatic reasons. In another biographical twist, Dresden’s wife was employed by Badings as the conservatoire’s senior singing teacher. Dresden’s 1916 sonata is very different to the more progressive Badings. Maybe Dresden imbibed some of Pfitzner’s Francophile tastes because this sonata is a watercolour after the ambiguous modernism of Badings. It sings warmly, and the piano’s fanciful escapades give the ear plenty to enjoy. A contemporary critic noted the ‘fragmentary’ and ‘hyper-modern’ element but to us, I suspect, charm and warmth are evident instead. In 1942 he wrote his second sonata. Here we see more French influence but this time it’s Ravel, who is especially noticeable in the pizzicato episode of the first movement. The central movement is terse—if one reads an autobiographical element into this, one can’t be blamed—with a tick-tocking effect that is emblematic, one feels. The slow section that begins the finale is the expressive heart of the sonata, with ensuing railway rhythms and a bout of real introspection marking their way to a slow, unconsoled end. The SACD has been very well judged spatially, and the documentary booklet is helpful. The contrasting works and the contrasting fortunes of both composers make for interesting and thoughtful listening, especially when the performances are as inside the music as they are here.