Druvi de Saram - piano
photo - Clive Barda

Brahms: Sonata in F Major Op.99. This Sonata for violoncello and piano, belongs to an astonishing group of five instrumental works which appeared, with consecutive opus number, in the last decade of Brahms' life. These five instrumental works are preceded and followed by vocal works. The five works I refer to are the 4th Symphony, op. 98; the Cello Sonata, op. 99; the Violin Sonata, op.100; the Trio op.101 and Brahms' last orchestral work, the Double Concerto, op. 102. I call them "astonishing" because they each, in their particular mediums, could be considered among his finest works, even given Brahms' very demanding standards.
The first movement of this Sonata is particularly interesting in that virtually the whole development section is played "molto p" and "pp", with very short louder outbursts, and its centre is at the lowest dynamic and thematically most static point of the entire movement, where generally the point of greatest dynamic intensity or thematic activity is found, in movements of Sonata form. In contrast to this, the bulk of the exposition and recapitulation are energetic. The movement opens with a stormy but measured tremolo on the piano, against which the cello plays its dramatic, rhetorical, interrupted motifs which later get transformed in the development section into pp chordal material for the piano with the cello providing a subdued tremolo background. The coda is a "dolce grazioso" transformation of the energetic second subject, but the movement ends with five bars using the opening material.

In the second movement, the very distant F sharp major tonality (in relation to the F major of the first movement) has been foreshadowed, not only harmonically but also melodically in the opening of the development section of the first movement. Harmonically, F sharp minor is the central tonality in the very chromatic opening of this section in the first, but more interestingly, the group of six notes (also very chromatic) which start the development proper in the middle of bar 9, after the tremolo in the piano has died away, takes its shape from an obscure inner part of this dying-away tremolo in the 7th and 8th bars. This melodic group of six notes is also used in augmentation in the left hand in the middle of bar 11 as well as later. They also appear as part of the leading melodic line in the second movement, starting in the middle of bar 2 in the piano and then in bar 9 on the cello and in augmentation in bars 10 and 11. This wonderful movement shows the cello, in its unrivalled capacity, to be the instrument possibly closest to the human voice. It is also interesting that the F minor middle section of this movement foreshadows the main tonality of the third movement, the middle trio section of which foreshadows the F major of the Finale.

The third movement seems to me a close relative of the "Allegro appassionato" large scale Brahmsian scherzo of the B flat 2nd Piano Concerto. This movement in the Sonata also has the indication "Allegro passionato", and the light-weight Finale of the Sonata also brings to mind the similarly gossamer textures of the Concerto finale, although the short marcato and syncopated transition theme of strongly Hungarian flavour, in the Sonata finale, provides contrast in the two outer sections of an A/B/A form. The middle section is a passionate B flat minor transformation derived from the opening theme of the movement. The close resemblance of the opening of this transformation to the well-known theme from "i pagliacci" of Leon Cavallo is noticable. However, in this case the thematic derivation is clear. The return of the "A" section is not in the main key of the movement (F major) but in G flat major, which is enharmonically identical to the F sharp major of the slow movement, as well as being related to the development section of the first movement. The coda of the finale brings back the marcato, syncopated material we had earlier but this time only on the piano (f chords) with the cello accompanying with arpeggio figures. Sixteen bars from the end, the main theme comes in yet another guise, this time in pizzicato.

Dillon: "Eos". "Eos" was the name given by the ancient Greeks to the goddess of the dawn. The Romans called her Aurora. The idea or picture evoked by James Dillon's piece for solo cello is possibly of a much more ancient time than the comparatively modern ancient Greeks. After the very quiet introductory section, which during a rehearsal James compared to an alaap or introductory improvisation in Indian music, comprises only the barest hint of some of the future material and uses sounds such as "variable finger pressure" on certain double stops as well as using light finger pressure on the strings, producing unpredictable pitch. The next section starts with the direction "like a faintly etched line", and is a crescendo and diminuendo, from ppp to fff and back to ppp over fifteen bars. This section is given more tangible form by the use of reiterated motifs: chromatic glissandi on the lower string and rapid eight-note figures with microtonal intonation. In the next section, the extreme dynamic swells take place within each bar with few exceptions. The texture for most of the piece is a two-stringed texture when it is not simply on a single string. The number of chords with triple or quadruple stopping, are few and far between.
As the piece progresses to its middle point, the previously mentioned ''dynamic swells'' remain very prominent and seem to be like a groundswell underlying a somewhat unpredictable and sometimes capricious surface. However, in the middle of the piece, this ever-present dynamic undulation is joined by asymmetrically recurring patterns of rhythms and pitches which last for approximately sixty bars, the first and last time in the piece where there has been a constant, if somewhat asymmetrical, pulse which makes this clearly the central section of the piece. A return of the capricious material prepares the way to the end of the piece, although there is a brief return to the dance-like pulse of the central section.
The piece ends with an eight-fold repeat of a single bar consisting of two tremolo chords, with a crescendo and diminuendo within each bar plus a crescendo and diminuendo over the eight bars, i.e. reaching the steepest crescendo and diminuendo on the fourth bar of the eight bar phrase before dying away.

Strauss: Sonata in F major opus 6. Even though Strauss' Sonata for cello and piano, opus 6, is among his earliest works written at the age of 18 or 19, it shows a complete mastery of the classical Sonata style as well as foreshadowing characteristics of his early tone poems such as "Till Eulenspiegel" and "Don Juan"; the sombre D minor opening of the slow second movement brings to mind "Tod und Verklarung". The middle section of this second movement, as well as the first and second subjects of the first movement, show Strauss' very prominent gift as a lyricist, as shown by his great Lieder and operatic output, throughout his long life. To me personally, the eminently "orchestratable" writing for the piano in this Sonata again foreshadows his future as a composer whose main "instrument", apart from the human voice, was to be the orchestra.
© 2013 Rohan de Saram.

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