The Kodaly Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8

More Than Just a Showcase for Flashy Cellistic Fireworks

In photographs, the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly (1882–1967) is commonly depicted as a senior with a grizzled beard and the look of someone who’d gone through the 20th century’s terrible upheavals. However, the Kodaly who wrote the Solo Cello Sonata, Op. 8, in 1915 for cellist Jeno Kerpely of the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet (which had premiered the first four Bartok string quartets) was neither old nor grizzled. That Kodaly (pronounced k?-die) was a 33-year-old composer in the forefront, along with his colleague Bela Bartok, of the new century’s frontier. A century later, the Solo Cello Sonata has become one of the touchstones of his career and a serious rival in the genre to Bach’s Six Suites.

The young English cellist Natalie Clein’s 2010 Hyperion recording of the Kodaly is far more than just an emotionally intense, brilliant virtuoso interpretation—it represents a personal and artistic challenge. She seems to be pushing herself to the limit, making it to the finish line just ahead of her strength giving out.

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