Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim in a memorable album of music familiar and unfamiliar

The extraordinary Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim writes in the liner notes to the CD APPROACHING AUTUMN (D3585) a warm welcome to the listener of this album, and Delos’ always insightful David Brin opens up new vistas onto the music contained in this recently-recorded CD: Zoltán Kodály’s early-career (1915) Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8, its opener, Mark Abel’s Approaching Autumn, a 2020 composition for cello and piano, and Edvard Grieg’s 1883 Sonata for piano and cello, in which the cellist is partnered by the excellent pianist Robert Koenig.

Zoltán Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8 clocks in at well over half an hour. As a work that features the cello as its one and only instrument it presents a challenge to both listener and player. The first must pay concentrated attention to this deeply Hungarian, melancholy, modal, folk-inflected music throughout three movements: an Allegro maestoso, an Adagio, and an intricate Allegro molto vivace.

For the player this is a technically daunting work, one that explores, in the words of the late Janos Starker, the cello “up and down”, so “down” in fact that the composer asks for the instrument that plays it to be tuned lower than the standard concert pitch of A440 in what musicians call scordatura so as to reach a note or two below the normally played lowest-most one in the average cello. There is that plus a mine field of glissandi, effects, percussive uses of the bow, contrapuntal hurdles, plucking, bending of the tone, and sounds that range from the lyrical to borderline humorous.

Kodály’s composition reveals yet another aspect of the genius of the multi-talented Hungarian educator, ethno-musicologist and composer who, along with his compatriot, Béla Bartók helped to gain a world-wide audience for the folk and concert music of their homeland. Jonah Kim dives into this music with courage underpinned by formidable technical prowess, with which he achieves a dazzling performance.

Mark Abel’s Approaching Autumn is a one-movement, 2020 composition, melodically forthcoming, harmoniously laid-out, often playful, eminently accessible, at times ruminative, unabashedly joyful at others, that offers a refreshing moment of solace after the demands  on both player and listener of the piece that precedes it on this CD. Jonah Kim and Robert Koening partner beyond perfection in this delightful work by the gifted American composer Mark Abel.

Quintessentially Romantic, folk-inspired, cantabile, dance-like, the Sonata for piano and cello, opus 36 is pure Grieg: uncomplicated, melodic, changing in moods throughout its three movements: an emotional Allegro agitato, a quiet Andante molto tranquillo, and a triumphant closing Allegro. Here, as in the previous two works in this superlative CD Jonah Kim and Robert Koening prove to be the ideal interpreters of this music, bringing to a close a memorable album of music familiar and unfamiliar.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS