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Fantasia – Works for Solo Cello (Jonathan Swensen)

Jonathan Swensen (cello) (Champs Hill)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Fantasia – Works for Solo Cello
Works by Dutilleux, Khachaturian, Kodály, Ligeti, Bent Sørensen
Jonathan Swensen (cello)
Champs Hill Records CHRCD168   75:16 mins

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Hats off to this young Danish cellist for finding a new frame for Kodály’s Solo Sonata, even if the pieces do serve to remind us of its unique strength. Jonathan Swensen, a musician of charisma and thrilling physicality, has chosen to pair it with a brand new commission, Farewell Fantasia, from the visionary Dane Bent Sørensen, and Khachaturian’s rarely-performed Sonata-Fantasia(1948). The former is a delicate treasure: whispering urgently at the point of contact, a mirage of plaintive song in a shimmering haze, conjuring, eventually, memories of Bach, now hovering high, now plunging into a submerged whale music. Khachaturian’s Sonata, by contrast, is a darkly introspective improvisation, an edifice made by chromatic chord sequences inching forward spliced by bursts of folkish vivacity. Despite its muscularity and distinctive cantilena, and Swensen’s passionate commitment, its 13-minute span doesn’t quite hold together.

His high-voltage focus hit me between the ears in Ligeti’s fiery early Sonata, and he captures the risk and frenzy of Dutilleux’sVariations on a theme by Paul Sacher. Sustaining a high-energy line through Kodály’s own Sonata, however, is a challenge. Swensen opens up its epic, orchestral dimension in the first and second movements, making space to allow the themes to breathe, but in the final Vivace the pacing is just that bit too slow, and a true sense of dance is obscured by all the heavy lifting. That gripe aside, there is plenty to enjoy: his cello is lavishly recorded, with pizzicato channelling Ry Cooder on slide guitar and bass resonance to drown in.

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Helen Wallace