Wednesday 4 November 2020

Two very different ways of seeing into the soul: Tabea Zimmerman in music for unaccompanied viola by Bach and György Kurtág

Solo II - Bach Unaccompanied cello suites, Kurtag Signs, Games and Messages; Tabea Zimmerman; Myrios Classics

Solo II
- Bach Unaccompanied cello suites, Kurtag Signs, Games and Messages; Tabea Zimmerman; Myrios Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 November 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The German viola player pairs music by Bach with contemporary miniatures by
Kurtág to striking effect

Ten years after recording Bach's first two cello suites for her album Solo, viola player Tabea Zimmerman returns to Bach with a new disc Solo II on the Myrios Classics label in which she pairs Bach's Suite No. 3 in C major for violoncello solo, BWV 1009 and Suite No. 4 in E-flat major for violoncello solo, BWV 1010 with six movements from György Kurtág's Signs, Games and Messages.

Bach on the viola? Well it works harmonically, because the strings of the viola are tuned the same as the cello, just an octave higher, which means that the player can perform the music in the same keys as the cello and take advantage of the same harmonic resonances of the open strings.

In fact, we don't know what instrument the suites were written for, and we don't have Bach's original manuscript. They may, in fact, have been written for a small cello, such as the violoncello piccolo, or the viola da spalla which was a curious half-way house, a small cello/large viola attached in front of the body by a strap. In fact Zimmerman does not attempt anything in the way of historical re-creation, she simply plays the music on her 1980 Vatelot viola with a classical bow.

The result is a clean, mellow sound which is full of colours and has a strong texture. The move up an octave results in music which has greater lightness, transparency and fluidity, but still with a strong sense of a low centre of gravity. Zimmerman's playing is poised and balanced. Her approach to speeds and tempi keeps the music's dance-origins to the fore without overplaying things, even the faster movements have a stately gravity, though movements like the 'Gigue' from Suite No. 3 have a delightful 'invitation to the dance' feel to them. By contrast some of the slower movements, such as the 'Sarabande' from Suite No. 4 retain their dance quality, yet combined with a sense of elegant melancholy. The playing is full of colour and texture without ever feeling that we have transported Bach to another world.

György Kurtág's unfinished suite Signs, Games and Messages consists of short movements written for friends. Zimmerman's selection consists of Panaszos nóta (The Mournful Song), Kromatikus feleselös (A quarrel, chromatically), Doloroso – Garzulyéknak, Népdalféle (In a folk tone), ... eine Blume für Tabea ... (A flower for Tabea) and In Nomine – all‘ongherese (Damjanich emlékkö). Whilst Bach was important to Kurtag (he used to play Bach piano duet arrangements with his wife Marta), there is one important difference as in these pieces Kurtag uses free notation, eschewing metre and thus providing a high contrast with Bach's dance-based suites.

Zimmerman's selection of movements includes one ... eine Blume für Tabea ... which Kurtág wrote for her after the untimely death of her husband, and a number of the other movements have a mournful, lamenting air. Panaszos nóta has a wonderfully eerie feel to the high viola writing, rendered sweetly and aetherially by Zimmerman and contrasting with the more textural passages. Kromatikus feleselös by contrast is a quarrel personified, a short and vivid argument that Zimmerman's fingers seem to be having with themselves. With Doloroso we return to the melancholy, only this time the music is in tentative fragments, not quite able to coalesce. Népdalféle is a wonderful evocation of folk melody, strong and uncompromising. ... eine Blume für Tabea ... is high and delicate, wisps and fragments. Zimmerman's final Kurtágchoice is the longest, and has the sense of a thoughtful meditation on a mournful folk melody.

Tabea Zimmermann (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Tabea Zimmermann (Photo Marco Borggreve)

The disc places the Kurtág in the middle, so after his questioning, freedom and economy we return to Bach. The very juxtaposition makes you think and contemplate. It isn't that one is right and the other wrong, the differences have much to do with time and place, with different performing attitudes. But placing two such masters of the unaccompanied side by side, shows us two very different ways of seeing into the soul. Zimmerman's brilliance on this disc is that she manages to play the music of each composer on its own terms, yet somehow to link the two.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) - Suite No. 3 in C major for violoncello solo, BWV 1009
Gyorgy Kurtag (born 1926) - Signs, Games and Messages for viola (excerpts)
Johann Sebastian Bach - Suite No. 4 in E-flat major for violoncello solo, BWV 1010
Tabea Zimmerman (viola)
Recorded 6 - 7 October & 24 -25 November 2018, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin-Dahlem

Elsewhere on this blog
  • A young man's response to the world today: Alex Woolf's Requiem released on Delphian  - cd review
  • O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort: Music, neuroscience and fear of death in OAE's Bach, the Universe and Everything - concert review
  • Late Beethoven from the Brodsky Quartet at Kings Place - concert review
  • The smallest ditty can feel like a marathon if it does not fit the voice: following his appearance with Blackheath Halls Opera, I chat to tenor Nicky Spence about his career and planning roles  - interview
  • A timely reminder of what we are missing: The Crimson Bird, orchestral works by Nicola Lefanu on new disc from NMC - CD review
  • Three Tributes: music by Kevin Puts, Andrea Clearfield and Gunther Schuller - CD review
  • More than a curiosity: Malcolm Arnold's forgotten opera The Dancing Master - CD review
  • An honourable failure or a misunderstood masterpiece? Another look at Weber's Oberon  - feature article
  • Weber at home: Complete keyboard duets from Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate - Cd review
  • Everything via Association: composer Vic Hoyland on his 75th birthday - interview
  • Welcome to the high energy world of Irish composer Ed Bennett: Psychedelia from NMC  - CD review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month