After the success of her disc of the Elgar and Carter Concertos, Recording of the Year in the 2014 BBC Music Magazine Awards, the American cellist Alisa Weilerstein has now tackled an equal challenge on a different scale: the solo Sonata by Zoltán Kodály. Written in 1915, this masterpiece of the unaccompanied cello repertoire lasts over half an hour, and reflects Kodály’s research into Hungarian folk music in its mixture of rhythmically free declamation and driving dance rhythms. The performance is superb: totally secure in technique, rich in sonority, compellingly idiomatic in its rhapsodising, and exhilarating in the passages representing an entire band of village musicians.
The rest of the programme, all vividly recorded, consists of three more 20th-century pieces of nationalist inspiration. Omaramor by the Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov muses on a tango by the legendary Carlos Gardel. The Suite by the Catalan cellist-composer Gaspar Cassadó imitates the piping and drumming of a Catalan sardana band and ends with an energetic jota. Bright Sheng’s suite wittily reproduces folk melodies from widely spread parts of China, with occasional nods to the sonorities of traditional Chinese instruments. It’s all colourful and enjoyable stuff, though it pales beside the towering performance of the Kodály.