I love the ‘cello. I played the ‘cello (badly) as a kid but always loved the instrument in other musicians' hands. So it is not surprising to me that this album with Swiss ‘cellist Frédéric Rosselet is our fourth ‘cello recording on the Yarlung label. Frédéric proudly joins ‘cellists Elinor Frey, John Walz and Antonio Lysy in what will continue as a serious exploration of great ‘cello repertoire.
Ralph Kirshbaum holds the Gregor Piatigorsky Chair at The Thornton School of Music, and Frédéric is one of his star protégés. In fact, Frédéric just won the prestigious Thornton Concerto Competition, playing the Lutoslawski ‘cello concerto. Before this, he took first place in the Bach Solo Strings Competition. Frédéric earned his Masters degree in Music Performance at the Hochschule für Musik at the Basel Music Academy with Rafael Rosenfeld. Frédéric studied Baroque ‘cello performance at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Incidentally, Frédéric shared the stage with Alberto Lysy, Antonio's father, and played often with Camerata Lysy in Switzerland.
Adam Gilbert, whom we have recorded several times with Ciaramella Ensemble, introduced me to multiple Yarlung musicians, including the Finnish violin superstar Petteri Iivonen. Adam suggested we hear Frédéric play both contemporary repertoire on his "modern" cello and Baroque music on an "original instrument." As usual Adam was right, and our ideas for this recording began to take shape during this first meeting.
Frédéric plays subtly and athletically. He is not a showy performer, but his technical prowess rivals the great virtuosi. He uses this skill tastefully and reservedly. It makes sense that Frédéric plays with physical ease; he is an athlete himself. Frédéric was born in Lausanne in 1988 and he describes himself as a "passionate skier." Indeed Frédéric skied every weekend in the winter when he was growing up, and his parents taught him to ski when he was two years old.
Frédéric's modern ‘cello, which he plays in the pieces by Berio, Ligeti and Dutilleux, used to belong to his grandfather and was made about 130 years ago by a student of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. For our two Bach suites, our friend Brenda Miralles suggested several instruments, configured as they would have been played in the Baroque era, without a peg, a lighter sound post on the interior of the instrument, gut strings and a Baroque bow. Frédéric chose a glorious instrument made by Carlos Moreno in Madrid in 2004, copied from a 1725 Grancino. Our sincere thanks to UCLA musicologist Elizabeth LeGuin for loaning us this ‘cello.
Yarlung could not make this recording without generous underwriting, especially from Carlos & Haydee Mollura and Jean & Ann Horton. We are also thankful for critical support from Paule & Emmett Marx, Bud & Peachy Spielberg and Lynne Taciak.
We recorded this album in Alfred Newman Hall on the campus of the University of Southern California thanks to the generosity of Dean Robert Cutietta. Heather Hall helped us with logistics and we are grateful. Jon Fisher loaned us his prized AKG C-24 microphone from Gearworks Pro Audio. This is my favorite microphone for recordings of this intimacy. We chose the Messenger microphone preamp by Elliot Midwood and Hovland microphone cables for these recordings. We ran Yarlung interconnects into our high resolution digital system and into our analog recorder using RMGI 468 tape. Bob Hovland and Len Horowitz designed the analog recorder electronics.
Thoughts on the music:
The Swiss conductor and philanthropist Paul Sacher personally commissioned much of the great music written in the Twentieth Century, including works by Stravinsky, Bartók and Lutoslawski. So it was fitting that for Sacher's 70th birthday, Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned twelve composer friends of his to write a piece for solo ‘cello, which Rostropovich played (mostly) on May 2nd, 1976. The twelve composers included Conrad Beck, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Wolfgang Fortner, Alberto Ginastera, Cristóbal Halffter, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Klaus Huber and Witold Lutoslawski. This body of work became known as the "eSACHERe" project, and utilized the Renaissance technique of soggetto cavato, wherein the composer uses pitches assigned to letters in a name ("Sacher" in this case) to form the melody upon which the piece is then composed. It was considered an expression of great homage; often these works were written in honor of various Renaissance patrons of the arts. So it is fitting that Rostropovich commissioned these works to celebrate Paul Sacher. The pitches assigned to Sacher's name are E-flat, A, C, B, E, and D. Yarlung released the eSACHERe pieces by Britten and Lutoslawski on our album Dialoghi, and Puneña 2 by Ginastera on Antonio Lysy at The Broad: Music from Argentina which won the 2010 Latin GRAMMY® Award. Frédéric continues this grand tradition with Berio's Les mots sont allés... and Dutilleux' Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher on this recording.
Our album opens with Berio's birthday present, the haunting Les mots sont allés.... The work begins slowly, but Frédéric breathes extra life into this subtle opening with hints of the contagious energy and dynamic life that Sacher continued to live until his death more than twenty years later. Frédéric plays "intimately as if speaking," as so directed by the composer in the score. Frédéric describes how "the composer uses a wide range of colors and dynamics to create a heated discussion that shifts from one extreme mood to another in very little time."
In J. S. Bach's Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009, Frédéric especially appreciates the glorious open C Major key "that makes the instrument resonate like in no other solo ‘cello suite. In contrast with the other suites, its freshness comes as a relief, since it is so joyful. One can only feel elated while performing or listening to the dances that characterize this suite." Bach probably wrote his six suites for unaccompanied ‘cello between 1717 and 1723 while living in Köthen and working as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen. It was in Köthen that Bach wrote some of his most memorable music, including The Brandenburg Concertos and Book One of the Well-Tempered Klavier.
György Ligeti's sonata for solo ‘cello comes next on our album. Ligeti wrote Dialogo, the first movement, for Annuss Virány, a ‘cellist with whom he was secretly in love, when they were both studying at the Budapest Music Academy in 1948. One can hear the influences of Bartók and Kodály in this movement; indeed Ligeti bases his theme on a Hungarian folk song. Allegedly, Virány never knew Ligeti felt so strongly about her and she failed to appreciate his gift.
Then in 1953, ‘cellist Vera Dénes asked Ligeti to write a performance piece for her. He expanded the sonata to include the second movement, Capriccio, inspired by Paganini's Caprices for violin. Unfortunately, this work was deemed "too modern" by the Soviet censors, so the work languished until 1979 when it resurfaced and eventually became required playing for the Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris.
Bach's Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008, returns us to 18th Century Köthen and Carlos Moreno's Baroque ‘cello. In contrast with Suite No. 3, this work offers an intimate journey, even introverted perhaps, as is Ligeti's unrequited love song. Frédéric likes to think of these two Bach suites through the lens of Schumann's description of his alternate personalities Florestan and Eusebius, the first expressing extroversion, passion and activity, the second expressing introversion, melancholy and passivity. Frédéric notes that while this D Minor Suite is "simple in its themes, it is full of complex and tense harmonies, making it dramatic in an almost Beethovenian way."
Henri Dutilleux' Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher brings us back to the works commissioned for Paul Sacher's famous birthday party. Dutilleux finished only the first movement for the original celebration in 1976, and completed the second and third strophes in 1982. Frédéric appreciates the variety in "these sketch-like pieces, which offer a great variety of sonorities, harmonies and extended techniques, some never seen or heard before on the ‘cello." Here Frédéric refers to the unusual tuning of the instrument, or scordatura, "which helps the instrument ring in a gripping way." In this case, Dutilleux instructs the player to tune the G string down to F# and the C string down to Bb. Frédéric wants us to notice the quotation (in Dutilleux' first movement) from Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, premiered by Sacher and the Basel Chamber Orchestra in 1937.
--Bob Attiyeh, producer