New Kodály CD of István Várdai
Brilliant Classics released on November 4th the new CD of István Várdai featuring Kodály's complete music for cello. With his longstanding pianist partner, Klára Würtz Várdai plays besides the monumental Sonata for Solo Cello, Op.8 and the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.4 three less well-known pieces for cello of the great Hungarian composer: Sonatina, Capricco and Adagio.

Bartók’s assessment of Zoltán Kodály’s music as “the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit” will strike a chord with those familiar with the suite from his opera Háry János, the Dances of Galanta or indeed the works for cello which moved the instrument on from the Romantic idiom of Brahms, and at the same time looked backwards to the dancing elegance of Bach’s solo Suites. He had taught himself to play the cello to a reasonable standard (also the violin and viola) and while, as he freely admitted, not a natural virtuoso, he had a feeling for the instrument which is obvious in his writing.

The Adagio was his first published work, dating from 1905 and originally written for violin and piano: still broadly Romantic in idiom, and unaffected as yet by his work in collecting folk songs from the countries of south-eastern Europe which would decisively influence his mature idiom.

The ruminative Op.4 Sonata for cello and piano (1910) is informed by the composer’s study of Debussy, and is perhaps overshadowed by the out-and-out classic which the Solo Sonata (1915) became once cellists such as Janos Starker had mastered its formidable technical challenges.

Dating from the same year, the brief Capriccio is based on an ebullient Hungarian folk melody and also employs scordatura, where the strings of the cello are retuned to explore harmonies outside the conventional diatonic structures of Western-European music. The cimbalom-like flourishes which open the Sonatina (1921-2), Kodály’s last work for the cello, further develop this fusion of cultures. 

This is Várdai’s third album for Brilliant Classics, following the Solo Suites of Bach and a recording of the original version of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.