WORKS: Variations on a Theme of Rossini; Cello Sonata No. 1; Variations on a Slovak Folksong
PERFORMER: Øystein Birkeland (cello), Håvard Gimse (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1146
The cover of this CD shows the two performers up to their waists in water; quite what this tells us about the repertoire recorded is beyond me, but cute marketing ploys are hardly necessary given the sheer quality of their playing. Their recital is framed by Martinu’s two sets of variations for cello and piano, and they set a high standard with a superbly poised rendition of Martinu’s witty Rossini variations. More substantial is his First Cello Sonata, composed just before he fled Paris as the Nazis arrived in 1940. It has some of the foreboding of the famous Double Concerto, but there is a wealth of the warm lyricism found later in his Second Cello Concerto. Once again, this is a performance of energy and insight.
After the power and passion of the Martinu, Kabalevsky’s Sonata of the early Sixties has a slightly artificial feel, but this does not prevent the players making the best of its tauter developmental passages and post-Romantic rhetoric. The finale is Martinu’s set of variations on a Slovak folk theme: strongly melodic and full of ear-catching instrumental touches, such as the imitation of the cimbalom, it is a winner to whose challenges this fine duo rises magnificently. Jan Smaczny