Musique de la Vie et de la Terre

Duo Recital

Robert Schumann: Three Romances, Op. 94


Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Romances Op.94
I. Nicht schnell (not fast)
II. Einfach, innig (simple, heartfelt)
III. Nicht schnell

The three Romances Op. 94 was written originally for oboe at the end of 1849, during
which Schumann also wrote three other works often performed on the cello and piano: Fantasiestücke, the Adagio and Allegro, and the Stücke im Volkston. These Romances would seem to have been inspired by Schumann’s increasing interest in old legends, which would culminate in his Choral Ballades (including Des Sängers Fluch—‘The singer’s curse’), written in the 1850s. There is something distinctly archaic about the narrator’s voice in this first Romance, while the innocent melody that opens the second suggests the song of an unsullied maiden of yore; as for the third—could that be an ancient nightwatchman whom we hear, calling the town’s soldiers to action, while in the middle section an abandoned sweetheart grieves? Fanciful, perhaps—but then Schumann is occasionally just a touch fanciful.

- Steven Isserlis


Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987)
Cello Sonata in B-flat Major Op.71
I. Andantemolto sostenuto
II. Allegretto
III. Allegro Molto

Like Schumann, Kabalevsky was fascinated by childhood and fantastical sentiments. Many young pianists may have come across
his ingenious little pieces bearing titles such as Ball Game, Fairy Tale, The Clown etc. which must have partly been inspired by Schumann’s pieces with similar titles in the Album for the Young and Scenes from Childhood. The Cello Sonata Op. 71, although large in scope, is constructed using the simple and immediately accessible musical language that Kabalevsky championed in his pedagogical works.

Composed in 1962 for his friend and collaborator Mstislav Rostropovich, the Sonata opens in the depth of the lowest notes
in both the cello and piano (perhaps a conscious reference to the similar soundscape of the Prokofiev Cello Sonata which Rostropovich premiered just over a decade earlier). The first movement is built as a large arch; each section gains more speed and movement culminating in a grotesque frenzied middle section. The movement reaches a fatal bell-like climax and finally calms after a lamenting cadenza for the cello. Throughout the movement, a three-note motif (a falling semitone followed by a minor third) is ever present as a melodic figure, or condensed into harmonies that juxtapose major and minor in a kind of harmonic ‘double think’.

Apart from his prolific pedagogical work, Kabalevsky was also an active film composer, having composed for twelve films from 1930s-1960s.
This cinematic sensibility can be heard most clearly in the middle movement, which starts in a film-noir-like suspense before breaking into an atmospheric ghostly waltz, with a pizzicato middle section that nods to both Piazzolla and Andalucian harmonies.

In the third and final movement we return to Kabalevsky as composer of etudes and virtuosic toccatas, as depicter of juggling jesters and clowns. But being a finale of a substantial Sonata, he frames this character piece in a loose Rondo-Sonata form, complete with a mini-fugato and a sobering return (or perhaps a dreamy dissolution?) to the very beginning of the work. This time, instead of the gradual build up of the opening, the lyrical lines stay content with the reassuring (and possibly programmed) piano chords, as if saying “all is well”.

- Prach Boondiskulchok


H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1927-2016)
Lullaby Op.24
arranged for cello and piano by Prach Boondiskulchok

The Lullaby is perhaps one of the lesser known works of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But it is one of my favourite for
its sweet gentleness, its Schubertian opening (reminiscent of the slow movement to Schubert’s Trio in B-flat), and the beautiful story of its composition: It is said that His Majesty played this work for the just-born H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and that the lullaby worked wonders in lulling the little princess to sleep. As we approach the anniversary of His Majesty’s passing, this arrangement, performed for the first time tonight, serves as a tribute to the memory of a great monarch whose diverse interests and artistic endeavours will inspire many generations to come.

- Prach Boondiskulchok


Olli Mustonen (b. 1967)
Chanson Russe et Danse Orientale (1995)

Finnish pianist, composer and conductor Olli Mustonen has embraced a multitude of musical activities since childhood, or, as he puts it: “Composers, instrumentalists, conductors, teachers, all of them should be ‘musicians’.” As a composer, he has remained aloof to any particular musical school or style, instead exploring various idioms from Neo-Baroque, to Neo-Classical and Romantic. The Chanson Russe et Danse Orientale (Russian Song and Oriental Dance) was written for Steven Isserlis, and was premiered by him and the composer at Wigmore Hall in 1995.


Ludwig an Beethoven (1770-1827)
Cello Sonata in A Major Op.69
I. Allegro, ma non tanto
II. Scherzo. Allegro molto
III. Adagio cantabile - allegro vivalce

The Cello Sonata in A major Op. 69 inhabits a completely different world to the much earlier Op. 5 Sonatas. Dedicated to another cello-playing aristocratic patron of Beethoven’s, Baron von Gleichenstein, the sonata was completed in 1808, making it a close contemporary of the two piano trios Op. 70 and the fifth and sixth symphonies. This work, now perhaps the most popular of all cello sonatas, is the creation of a grand master at the very height of his powers. By this time, Beethoven, plagued by increasing deafness, had given up his life as a virtuoso; he was concentrating almost solely on composition. The two Op. 5 sonatas are really (as advertised) sonatas for piano with cello obbligato, wonderful though the cello parts are; but for his third effort in the genre, Beethoven set himself the challenge of writing a truly equal duo sonata, all the material being equally adaptable for either instrument. The result is a triumph in every way—it is, in fact, the perfect classical sonata.

The cello, as if to establish its new equal role, begins this Sonata alone, posing a graceful question; this is taken up by the piano,
and repeated with the voices reversed. The concluding flourishes for both instruments give the impression of an unfinished sentence; we have to wait until the end of the movement for its completion. There is certainly drama aplenty here, but overall the abiding impression of this Allegro, ma non tanto is one of lofty serenity and lyricism.

The second movement, a craggy Scherzo, is cast in a form Beethoven also used in many other works: we hear the scherzo section three times, the middle trio section twice (A-BA- B-A). Within this substantial structure, Beethoven unsettles our perceptions with his constant use of syncopations, both in small-scale terms (the main theme of the scherzo starts on the last beat of the bar), and on a larger scale (the melody of the trio starts on the second bar of a four-bar phrase).

The Adagio cantabile that ensues appears to promise a full slow movement, in E major; but within fourteen bars, Beethoven apparently changes his mind, taking us back to A major and thence into the gloriously sunny Allegro vivace. Lyricism, virtuosity and wit combine here to produce a dazzling celebration. A particularly magical moment occurs in the final coda, where Beethoven introduces a melting passage which, although derived from earlier material, sounds so unexpected and fresh that we feel as if he has given us a new theme as a parting gift.

- Steven Isserlis

Cello: Steven Isserlis
Piano: Prach Boondiskulchok
10th October 2017, 7.30 p.m.
Sangita Vadhana Hall, Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music