ON RECORD: The Royal Cello

"Bion Tsang plays simply and dreamily."

By Edith Eisler April 1999

Cellists often complain that their instrument, despite its infinitely bigger range, has a much smaller literature than the violin. Indeed, the cello, originally used mostly as a bass, only gradually found recognition as a solo instrument, and although it has finally come into its own as both the most versatile and the most powerful member of the string family, cellists still have to fall back on transcriptions; some add to the repertoire by making their own.

One of the most famous and beloved transcriptions is Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata, originally written for the arpeggione, a fretted six-string instrument tuned like a guitar but played with a bow. Now extinct, it would probably have been forgotten if Schubert had not composed this lovely piece for it. (A specimen can be seen, though not heard, in New York in the Metropolitan Museum's instrument collection.) The sonata has been transcribed for many instruments, but only the cello can reproduce its entire range.

Bion Tsang, an impressive young cellist who made his debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of eleven and has won numerous prizes and awards, including awards, including an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Bronze Medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, gives it a dreamy, wistful performance, warmly expressive yet simple. The Finale is best: lively, flowing, whimsical, brilliant, imaginatively varying the theme's recurrent appearances. It is paired with three works by Schumann. Only one was originally written for cello: Fünf Stucke im Volkston (Five Pieces in Folk Style), Op. 102. Despite the title, these are sophisticated character-pieces: flanking a tender lullaby and a couple of warm, rhetorical ballads, the first is humorously robust, the last assertively defiant. The Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, is originally for horn, the Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, for clarinet; both have alternate cello parts and are well suited to the instrument. The playing captures character, mood, and expression from wistful, lyrical inwardness to impetuosity and passion; phrases are elegantly shaped, transitions are organic, and the sound is lovely. The excellent pianist is Richard Bishop.