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EXPLORING MUSIC: THE PERIPATETIC CELLIST/Works for Cello by Boccherini, Sammartini,

The MHS Review 400 VOL. 12, NO. 4 • 1988

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Frank Cooper


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Anner Bylsma, one of the world's finest cellists, lives in Amsterdam in a commodious house. He and his present wife occupy the upstairs while his former wife and their children live downstairs. "The ladies are good friends and I am always able to be with the children. Ours is an excellent arrange­ment," he told me when we met a few years ago. I found myself wondering how often he actually got to be with his extended family, so awesome was (and is) his concert and recording schedule.

Mr. Bylsma's tours take him everywhere: Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia. If concerts on the moon ever develop, I have no doubt he will play there. One of the reasons for his popularity with concert managers and record companies is that, in addi­tion to a comprehensive repertoire (with a memory to match), he is equally at home with the modern cello as with its baroque forebear and the various bows required. At sight he can read an un­familiar work almost as well as most cellists would play it after considerable practice.

And Anner Bylsma is one of the best disposed musicians ever to achieve world fame. He can stand forth as a soloist in the best sense of the word and, moments later, merge into a chamber ensemble with no trace of condescen­sion. Thus it comes as no surprise that this is not the Society's first release featuring Mr. Bylsma and his adven­turous repertoire (he has made dozens and dozens worldwide).

In this issue we are taken on a tour of 17th- and 18th-century musical Italy­--with one and two cellos as our guides. Of the composers we meet, Boccherini needs the least introduction, since his concerti and chamber works loom large among our past releases. His name stood next to Haydn's in Dr. Burney's estima­tion (and, heaven knows, that good doc­tor was never at a loss for an opinion). Today. we reckon Boccherini as one of the classical era's most representative masters, the composer of music both gallantly pretty and wittily urbane.

His Concerto in G major does the ex­pected things in its three melodious movements. The Sonata, on the other hand, doesn't. A work for cello with the accompaniment of a string bass, it has a bizarre succession of movements: the first, an Allegro; the second, a Largo which gives way to an Allegro before slowing down to Adagio; the last, a Larghetto-Allegro-Larghetto-Presto­ Larghetto-Presto-Primo tempo-Allegro-Larghetto.

The unexpected proves to be a plea­sant surprise, as does the Sammartini Sonata for two cellos. Sammartini enjoys fame today as one of the founders of the symphony as a form. His ingratiating, lively works paved the way for Haydn and Mozart; but a work for two unac­companied cellos? Only a master could make the combination work so ef­fortlessly, so sweetly.

Degli Antoni is remembered now on­ly by historians (and at least one performer!) as an important figure in the history of music for the solo cello. His ricercatas are forerunners of J.S. Bach's unaccompanied suites. Gabrielli, not of brass-and-choir fame but a virtuoso cellist and opera composer in the 1680s, left us a real novelty in his Canon for two cellos. It features the partners play­ing the same music exactly one beat apart, echolike.

By the way, Bylsma is pronounced "bills-ma." His estimable colleague at the second cello, Mr. Koster, has a first name, Dijck, that is pronounced "dake." Their collaborator on the string bass, An­thony Woodrow, poses no problems for Anglo tongues. Paired as they are in various ways, these fellows turn in per­formances as excellent and elegant as anyone could want.

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