Cellist Alban Gerhardt was born into a musical family (his father was a violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic for over 40 years) and made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1991. He has enjoyed an international career that has shown him to be an advocate of rare works and new compositions such as the Cello Concerto by Unsuk Chin of which Gerhardt gave the world premiere in 2009. Cecile Licad was born in Manila, and rose to prominence in the 1980s with concerto recordings in which she collaborated with musicians including Andre Previn and Claudio Abbado. Her repertoire includes solo works by Ravel and Gottschalk, as well as chamber music at venues including the Marlboro Festival and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. In this concert, Gerhardt and Licad open with Bach’s Suite No. 5 for solo cello. They also perform Beethoven’s early Cello Sonata in G minor and Rachmaninoff’s eloquent Cello Sonata.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor Op. 5/2
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19
“One of the finest cellists around - expressive, unshowy and infinitely classy“ (The Guardian). Alban Gerhardt has, for 25 years, made a unique impact on audiences worldwide with his intense musicality, compelling stage presence, and insatiable artistic curiosity. His gift for shedding fresh light on familiar scores, along with his appetite for investigating new repertoire from centuries past and present, truly set him apart from his peers.
Highlights of the 2018/2019 season include the premiere of a new concerto by Brett Dean with Sydney Symphony Orchestra (David Robertson) and Berliner Philharmoniker (Sakari Oramo), and concerts with Hong Kong Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, and WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under Jukka-Pekka Saraste, with whom he will record both Shostakovich concertos.
Gerhardt will also give recitals at The Phillips Collection Museum in Washington DC, London’s Wigmore Hall, and Shanghai Concert Hall. Next season sees the development of a new project Love in Fragments with the violinist Gergana Gergova, choreographer Sommer Ulrickson, and sculptor Alexander Polzin in a bringing together of music, movement, and the spoken word which receives its US premiere at 92nd St. Y.
Gerhardt is passionate about sharing his discoveries with audiences far beyond the traditional concert hall: outreach projects undertaken in Europe and the US have involved performances and workshops, not only in schools and hospitals, but also pioneering sessions in public spaces and young offender institutions.
His collaboration with Deutsche Bahn, involving live performances on the main commuter routes in Germany, vividly demonstrates his commitment to challenging traditional expectations of classical music. In early 2017, Gerhardt founded #Musicians4UnitedEurope (www.musicians4unitedeurope.com), a group of international musicians working together to voice their support for a united and democratic Europe.
Following early competition success, Gerhardt’s international career was launched by his debut with Berliner Philharmoniker and Semyon Bychkov in 1991. Notable orchestra collaborations since include Concertgebouw Amsterdam, London Philharmonic, all of the British and German radio orchestras, Tonhalle Zürich, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Orchestre National de France, as well as Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, under conductors such as Kurt Masur, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christian Thielemann, Christoph Eschenbach, Michael Tilson Thomas, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Jurowski, Kirill Petrenko, and Andris Nelsons.
He is a keen chamber musician; his regular performance partners include Steven Osborne, Cecile Licad, Baiba Skride, and Brett Dean. Gerhardt has collaborated with composers including Jörg Widmann, Unsuk Chin, Brett Dean, Julian Anderson, and Matthias Pintscher; and in almost every case he commits to memorizing their scores before world premiere performances.
A highly acclaimed recording artist, Gerhardt has won several awards, and his recording of Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto, released by Deutsche Grammophon, won the BBC Music Magazine Award and was shortlisted for a Gramophone Award in 2015. Gerhardt has recorded extensively for Hyperion, his latest recording of Rostropovich’s Encores released in January 2017. In 2019 his complete recording of the Bach suites will be released. Alban Gerhardt plays a Matteo Gofriller cello dating from 1710.
Called “a pianist's pianist” by The New Yorker, Cecile Licad's artistry is a blend of daring musical instinct and superb training. Her natural talent was honed at the Curtis Institute of Music by three of the greatest performer/pedagogues of our time: Rudolf Serkin, Seymour Lipkin, and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. Licad's large repertoire as an orchestral soloist spans the Classical works of Mozart and Beethoven, the Romantic literature of Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff, and on to the 20th century compositions of Debussy, Ravel, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartok.
Licad can be heard in her recently released album titled Music of the Night: American Nocturnes (Danacord). The album is the second volume of her critically acclaimed Anthology of American Piano Music, which explores lesser played music of American Composers. Of the Anthology, Pianist Magazine wrote “To hear a master pianist like Cecile Licad tackle these works is a luxury not often granted when unknown piano music is concerned. It’s usually left to the second-division pianists to be dragged into the studio to record the ‘outsiders’. Not so here.”
Licad’s recent engagements included the Nashville Symphony’s summer season playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto at the opening concert; Liszt’s Concerto No.1 and Totentanz in the Cultural Center of the Philippines with the ABS-CBN Symphony; a recital at the Husum Rare Music Festival in Germany, as well as at Festival Miami; Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the San Antonio Symphony under Sebastian Lang-Lessing; Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, under Lawrence Rachleff; returns to the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Adrian (MI) Symphony orchestras; performing with the Northwest Sinfonietta in Seattle and Tacoma, as well as the Tupelo Symphony; and recitals in Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum and at the Harvard Musical Association, also in San Jose, CA and in Bogota, Colombia.
A memorable highlight was her collaboration with the Wynton Marsalis Septet performing the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk to accompany the feature film Louis, a silent film homage to Louis Armstrong which premiered in Chicago’s Symphony Center and was also seen at the Apollo Theater in New York City as well as in Detroit, Bethesda, and Philadelphia. The project was repeated in London with two performances in Barbican Hall followed by a recording of the live music at Abbey Road studios.
Licad has toured in Germany in past seasons with the Wurtemburg Philharmonic and appeared with the Freiburg Orchestra performing the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano and Trumpet. She has appeared in North America with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and many others. In Europe she has played with the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Bayerisches Rundfunk Orchestra, and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Moscow State Academy Symphony. In Asia, she has performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, New Japan Philharmonic, Tokyo’s NHK Symphony, and her native Philippine Philharmonic. Among the conductors with whom she has collaborated are Claudio Abbado, Andrew Davis, Charles Dutoit, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, Gerard Schwarz, Michael Tilson-Thomas, David Zinman, Pinchas Zukerman, as well as the late Sir Georg Solti, Eugene Ormandy, and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Licad has performed in recital with Murray Perahia, Peter Serkin, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, with whom she has appeared at Lincoln Center, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, and the Kennedy Center, respectively. She also performs with cellist Alban Gerhardt in Germany and in the US. She appeared as soloist in the Steinway Piano Sesquicentennial Celebration at Carnegie Hall, performing six Rachmaninoff songs with tenor Ben Heppner, and has made television appearances with Mstislav Rostropovich.
As a highly regarded chamber musician, she has performed regularly with ensembles such as the New York Chamber Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Guarneri Quartet, Takacs Quartet, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and Music from Marlboro. She also appeared as guest soloist on tour with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Leipzig, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne, among other European cities.
Her summer festival appearances have included Caramoor, Tanglewood, the International Music Festival of Seattle, Mostly Mozart Festival (in both New York and Tokyo) as well as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, La Jolla Chamber Music and Eastern Music Festival. She has also performed at the Great Mountains Music Festival in Korea.
On the Music Masters label, Licad released a recording of three works by Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin, Gaspard de la Nuit, and Sonatine. She has an all-Gottschalk recording on the Naxos label. And on Sony Classical, she has recorded Schumann’s Carnaval, Papillions and Toccata in C Major; and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Chicago Symphony, conducted by Claudio Abbado. Her Sony Classical release of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2, with André Previn conducting the London Philharmonic, was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque Frederic Chopin. Angel/EMI produced her solo all-Chopin recordings, which include Études, op. 10. Also for Angel/EMI, she recorded, with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, the Franck Sonata in A Major, the Brahms Sonata No. 2 in A Major, and Sonatensatz in C Major.
Cecile Licad began her piano studies at the age of three with her mother, Rosario Licad, in her native Philippines, and later studied with the highly regarded Rosario Picazo. At seven, she made her debut as soloist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Philippines. As one of the youngest musicians to receive the prestigious Leventritt Gold Medal, Ms. Licad won immediate international recognition, and her career was launched.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Suite No. 5 for Solo Cello in C minor, BWV 1011
The early history of Bach’s Cello Suites is one of almost total neglect. They were probably composed in about 1720 during Bach’s time in Cöthen (a few years before his move to Leipzig). It isn’t known for whom Bach wrote them, though there were at least two likely candidates working in Cöthen at the time. One was the viola da gamba player Christian Ferdinand Abel (1682–1761), a great friend of the composer for whom Bach wrote the three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1027–9) and whose son, Carl Friedrich Abel, went on to promote a concert series in London with Bach’s son Johann Christian. The other was the leading cellist in the Cöthen orchestra, Carl Bernhard Lienicke (d. 1751). Whether either of them was the player for whom the suites were written is a matter of pure speculation since no documentary evidence has come to light. Equally uncertain is why Bach wrote them. The likeliest explanation is that they were intended—like much of his keyboard music—for private performance. Another idea, without any hard facts to support it but no less attractive for that, is that they may have been used for performance in church, as instrumental meditations, rather like Heinrich Biber’s “Rosary” Sonatas of 1676.
The suites were not published until 1824, when they were issued in Paris by the firm of Janet et Cotelle as Six Sonates ou Etudes pour le Violoncelle Solo. The preface to this edition describes them as “studies for cello” and explains that “M. Norblin, principal cellist of the Académie royale de musique, has finally reaped the fruits of his perseverance by the discovery of this precious manuscript … These studies by Bach for the cello are no less important than his other works, and the publication of this book cannot fail to obtain the greatest success.” Despite a reprint in Germany in 1825, and a new German edition in 1826, any notion of “the greatest success” remained a hope rather than a reality. In the 1860s, new editions tried to revive interest in the Suites by supplying them with piano accompaniments but again they failed to attract much attention except, presumably, among a few pedagogues looking for teaching exercises. In 1879, the suites appeared in the collected edition of Bach’s works published by the Bach Gesellschaft in Leipzig. A few years later, the young Pablo Casals had what he described as “the great revelation of my life” when he rediscovered the suites in about 1890 and became the first cellist of international renown to perform the suites and later to make pioneering recordings of them in 1936–9.
For the Fifth Suite, the cellist is required to retune one of the strings (a technique called scordatura), changing the tuning of the top string from A to G. The Prelude is a magnificent structure based on the slow-fast design of a French Overture. The start is grand and stately before the music turns into a triple-time fugue in which Bach—thanks to a brilliant compositional sleight-of-hand—gives the illusion of a single musical line imitating multiple contrapuntal voices. After the large proportions of the Prelude, the Allemande and Courante are both relatively straightforward. The Sarabande is a movement of extraordinary emotional power achieved through the simplest of means: wide-ranging arpeggiated figures all leading towards lower notes in the first half and inverting the process (and filling in the rhythmic pattern) in the second, without any double-stopping. The Gavottes are contrasted rhythmically—the first is sturdy and feels a little rustic, while the second is animated by constant triplet movement. The short closing Gigue is marked by angular phrases and dotted rhythms.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2
When Mozart had visited the court of Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1789, he was commissioned to compose a set of quartets, and the resulting “Prussian” quartets are notable for their prominent and demanding cello parts, written for the King’s principal cellist, Jean-Pierre Duport (1741–1818). It was probably his equally gifted younger brother, Jean-Louis (1749–1819), for whom Beethoven composed his first two sonatas for piano and cello in 1796 (Jean–Louis had succeeded his brother as first cellist at the court in 1789). The playing of the younger Duport attracted widespread admiration, and Voltaire declared to him: “Sir, you make me believe in miracles, for you turn an ox into a nightingale.”
The two sonatas Beethoven wrote for Duport effectively invented a new genre—neither Haydn nor Mozart composed sonatas for cello and piano—and they also demonstrated the individuality of the young composer’s style: Beethoven was still only his mid-20s when he wrote them. The first performance of the sonatas was given in Berlin by Duport and Beethoven, and as a reward the King presented Beethoven with a gold snuff-box filled with gold coins. The composer boasted to his friend and pupil Ferdinand Ries that this was no ordinary snuff-box, “but such a one as it might have been customary to give an ambassador.” On his return to Vienna, Beethoven immediately set about arranging for the Op. 5 sonatas to be published, and they were issued by the firm of Artaria in February 1797, as “Two Grand Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte with an obbligato Violoncello … Dedicated to His Majesty Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia.” While this edition was in preparation, Beethoven introduced his new sonatas in Vienna: at a concert in January 1797, he performed them with the cellist Bernhard Romberg, an old friend with whom Beethoven had played a decade earlier at the opera in Bonn.
The Sonata in G minor Op. 5, No. 2, begins with a slow introduction that presents a dramatic dialogue between the instruments. After an emphatic G-minor chord, the falling scale of the piano is answered by an enigmatic phrase on the cello, a process that is then repeated and extended. A more lyrical melody is heard on the cello, echoed by the piano, and the ideas already introduced are woven into a texture enriched by rapid-arpeggiated figures on the piano, dominated by the descending scale from the opening, but now mirrored by an ascending scale in an impassioned interchange between cello and piano. The slow introduction sinks into phrases punctuated by uneasy silences, and this leads to the main Allegro molto più tosto presto. Here the principal theme is introduced by the cello, quickly answered by the piano, initiating an intense exchange between the instruments, propelled by rapid piano figurations. There are moments of contrast (including a delightful dancing theme introduced in the development section), but for most of this movement, there’s a powerful feeling of driving and energetic momentum. Beethoven already demonstrates in this early work an ability to create a startlingly vivid musical landscape with the greatest economy—something he was to do in so many later works—by using a few terse ideas and developing these to the fullest possible extent. The concluding Rondo is a striking contrast to what has gone before. Beethoven takes us from the turbulence of the first movement to a finale in G Major, marked by a certain formal elegance at the start and interrupted with a few darker outbursts, but the mood is above all one of affirmation, and a celebration of instrumental virtuosity.
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Danse orientale, Op. 2, No. 2 and Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19
In February 1892, the cellist Anatoly Brandukov (1859–1930) performed in Rachmaninoff’s first formal concert in a program which included the Trio élégiaque. Before the concert, the young composer completed his Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 2, dedicated to Brandukov. The second of these is the Danse orientale, a highly expressive work based on a theme with a decidedly Eastern character which is presented in various guises, evolving through the course of the piece until the return of the opening piano idea and a pizzicato ending. It’s a fine achievement for such a young composer (Rachmaninoff was still in his teens when he wrote it), and it shows his natural affinity for the cello, an instrument that was perfectly suited to his melodic gifts. Brandukov was an outstanding musician and his playing was much admired by Tchaikovsky. They became friends and Brandukov gave the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso. Tchaikovsky also made an arrangement for cello and piano of the Andante cantabile from his String Quartet No. 1 as a piece for Brandukov to perform in their joint concerts. Brandukov went on to establish a friendship with Rachmaninoff: in addition to playing his chamber works he was also the best man at Rachmaninoff’s wedding in 1902.
In September 1901, Rachmaninoff started to compose his Sonata in G minor and he gave the first performance with Brandukov—to whom he also dedicated the work—in Moscow on December 2, 1901. It was published by Gutheil the following year. In the weeks before the planned premiere Rachmaninoff began to worry about finishing the Sonata on time—he confided to one friend that “my work’s going badly, and there’s not much time left. I’m depressed,” —but he completed it on schedule and on November 30, a few days before the premiere, he gave a private performance with Brandukov for the composer Sergei Taneyev. Rachmaninoff later described the Cello Sonata as being one of the pieces which he was able to write thanks to the treatment he received from the neurologist Dr. Nikolai Dahl in 1900. This allowed Rachmaninoff to emerge from almost three years of mental illness and creative silence.
After a slow, rather plaintive opening, the first movement blossoms into an imposing Allegro moderato, the cello introducing a lyrical idea over an elaborate piano accompaniment. For the second important theme in the movement, the tempo eases and it is first heard on the piano before being taken over by the cello. Rachmaninoff develops both these ideas in an intense sonata-form structure, bringing the movement to a stirring and serious close in the home key of G minor. The second movement is a Scherzo in C minor, an impressive demonstration of Rachmaninoff’s ability to generate musical energy with great economy of means—the main idea in the dark, driving outer sections is a six-note descending scale, passed from one instrument to the other in a slightly menacing dialogue. The slow movement (in E-flat Major) begins with a long piano solo, introducing the radiant theme that is then taken up by the cello before the musical argument becomes ever more lyrical and impassioned before subsiding in a state of blissful tranquility. The finale is a turbulent movement, in G Major, beginning with an urgent-rising flourish from the piano to introduce the first main idea, heard on the cello. The rich and resonant second theme brings a sense of greater calm. Both ideas are used to drive the music towards a magnificent central climax before a recapitulation that leads to a dream-like slow section, subsiding into near silence. It was here that Rachmaninoff originally intended to finish the work, but a few days after the first performance he decided to add a coda (its music recalling, among other things, the first movement’s main theme) with which he brings the Sonata to a magnificently flamboyant conclusion.
Nigel Simeone, 2019