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Druvi de Saram - piano
photo - Clive Barda

This would include Bartók himself, when he came to write his magnificent solo sonata for violin, nearly thirty years later. Not that one could call Bartók's Sonata or any of the best works for this genre "mere imitation", but the influence is there nevertheless.

Given Kodály's predominantly tonal language and his non polyphonic style in this Sonata, one of the greatest inspirations in the work occurs before a single note of the piece has been played, namely backstage, when the cellist tunes his C string down to B and his G string down to F sharp, thereby providing him with three open strings producing the B minor triad, which is the basic tonality around which the work evolves.

Although on first acquaintance the Sonata gives the impression of being rhapsodic, even improvisatory in style, and above all very strongly stamped with the Magyar character, as one gets to know the work more intimately it is clear that certain aspects of the Classical tradition underlie the structure of the piece. For instance, the first movement obviously has its structural roots in the concept of sonata form, even if the key relationships are not what one would call orthodox. There is a first and second subject, a development and a recapitulation starting with the second subject. The climax of the movement comes at the very end of the development where the opening first subject is heard fortissimo in quadruple stopping. The second subject has a characteristic accompanying figure of a group of five notes, which is heard intermittently. It consists of an oscillating minor second, and plays an important role throughout the second subject material, both in the exposition and recapitulation.

In the large central slow movement, strangely modal melodic material reminds one of the Eastern origins of the Magyar race and folklore. The broad and sonorous introductory phrase, largely built on the interval of the perfect fourth, has the germs of what later in the movement become the huge, slow-moving, arch-like melodic phrases (with their left hand pizzicato accompaniment) which are such a prominent feature of this movement. The Eastern sounding material, with its rapid ornamental figures immediately followed by long sustained notes, alternates with this slow-moving music at the beginning of the movement. There is an improvisatory episode of great splendor, marked "feroce", before the music returns to the Eastern-sounding material, but this time in a densely varied version with tremolos, trills, short repeated figures and arpeggios. A final, very impressive appearance of the slow-moving music leads into a coda based on the initial mordent of the Eastern-sounding music, with the natural high harmonics of the four strings playing a prominent part.

The finale of this Sonata is one of the most astonishing virtuoso pieces ever written for a single instrument. It is for the cello what some of the virtuoso pieces of Paganini, Chopin & Liszt, not to mention Rachmaninov, are for the violin and piano respectively. It exploits every facet of virtuoso cello technique known until the first half of the 20th century. I was very fortunate in having the opportunity of playing this work to Kodály on one of his visits to Oxford in 1960. He once mentioned the fact that as the whole Sonata is over thirty minutes in length and might be too long for certain programmes, he would be happy for me to play the finale by itself, which I do sometimes. Of course this is not the same as playing the whole of this magnificent Sonata, which is one of the greatest works ever written for a solo instrument.

© 2011 Rohan de Saram.

Sergei Rachmaninov: Sonata Op.19

Among the large scale, four-movement Sonatas written for piano together with another instrument, those for piano and cello occupy a prominent position. Fine examples of such works are the Sonatas by three great pianist-composers: Chopin, Alkan and Rachmaninov.

In the introduction to the first movement of Rachmaninov's Sonata, we already have the melodic step of a rising minor second and other closely related motifs, which play such an important role in this movement. The technique of sharing the musical material equally between the two instruments as in a sonata by Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, is much less apparent here, although by no means entirely absent. One is conscious of the fact that the instruments are used in such a way as to bring into prominence some of their strongest and most typical characteristics: the cello in its unequalled capacity as a singing instrument and the piano with its filigree passage-work and ability to exploit harmonic range and to clarify the main climaxes of the sections and movements, something very central to Rachmaninov's thinking both as a pianist and a composer. As the central and biggest climax of the movement, at the end of its development section, uses material derived from the first subject, the recapitulation starts with the second subject. The coda is comparatively short and compressed. The second movement, a scherzo in C minor, has something of the fast and driven quality of some of Beethoven's movements in this key. The contrasting trio section, with expansive melodic writing for the cello, is in A flat major before the return of the C minor scherzo, with a coda vanishing into a pianissimo end.

The third movement in E flat major is certainly one of the most beautiful slow movements in the entire cello/piano repertoire. After the central fortissimo climax, the piano takes up the main theme with the cello accompanying in triplets. The answering phrase when the cello has the main theme, with the triplets in the piano, leads into the coda via a dramatic and unexpected move of the harmony, very briefly and fortissimo into the distant key of E minor before moving into E flat major at the end.

The Finale, whose first subject, in G major, is full of panache, moves fairly swiftly into the very memorable, broadly flowing, second subject in D major. The development, mainly concerned with first subject material, is on a large scale and moves decisively into the recapitulation of the first subject. The second subject on its return is heard piano at first, as if from a distance, but then the whole of the second subject material is heard, this time in G major. The coda has a nostalgic remembrance of certain motifs from this same material but ends briskly and fortissimo using some elements (the rising second) from the opening material of the first movement. © 2011 Rohan de Saram

Rohan de Saram was born in Sheffield, UK, but spent the first ten years of his life in Sri Lanka where he started his cello studies with Martin Hohermann. Recognised as a child prodigy, at the age of 11 Rohan went with his father to Florence, where Gaspar Cassado was his teacher. In 1955 he won the Suggia Award in London, which enabled him to continue his studies with Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico and with Sir John Barbirolli in London.

As soloist, Rohan has played throughout Europe, Asia, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the former Soviet Union with the major orchestras & conductors of the world. His debut in USA was at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the invitation of Dmitri Mitropoulos. At a recital in America, Piatagorsky presented him with a special cello bow which he uses for concerts. Also in America, when at short notice Piatagorsky was indisposed, Rohan was asked to deputise for him in the Walton Cello Concerto with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

His UK debut was at the Wigmore Hall in 1959. At this time he also had the opportunity of working with a number of composers among whom were Walton, Poulenc, Shostakovich and Kodaly with whom he studied the Solo Sonata, op.8. More recently he has worked, among many others, with Berio, who wrote his final Sequenza, no. XIV, for him; with Xenakis and Pousseur, both of whom wrote works for him; and Stockhausen, with whom he transcribed for solo cello a movement from the Suite for clarinet called "Amour". Rohan was for many years a member of the Arditti Quartet, which in 1995 was awarded the Siemens prize for its services to contemporary music.

In 2004 Rohan was awarded an Hon. D. Litt. from the University of Peradeniya and, a year later, was awarded a Deshamanya, the national honour of Sri Lanka.

Druvi de Saram commenced his musical studies in Sri Lanka. Since living in England from the age of 16, he worked with such renowned musicians as Dame Myra Hess, Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich, Daniel Barenboim and Maria Curcio. He also studied for two years at the Moscow Conservatoire.

Druvi gave his London debut at the Wigmore Hall in 1975. He has toured extensively in Europe & Asia both as a soloist, including tours of China, India & Australia and as a duo with his cellist brother Rohan. Together, Rohan & Druvi have performed at leading London venues and at prestigious international festivals in the UK & Europe. They also toured the former Soviet Union several times.
As a chamber musician, Druvi has worked with the violinist Salvatore Accardo, the clarinettist Anthony Pay and with the Arditti Quartet. Collaborating with contemporary composers, Druvi has given first performances of works by Humphrey Searle, Roger Reynolds and John Mayer. He has broadcast frequently with his brother Rohan both for the BBC and for several European radio stations.
Druvi currently teaches at the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music.

(Dip. Moscow Cons)

*de Saram in Concert - Vol. 2 (Claudio CB6005-2) will include the Debussy and Strauss

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