Bion Tsang, An American in Clamart

By Jean-Christophe le Toquin 08/09/2005

The Sonata for Violoncello Solo (1915) by Kodály is a gem with multiple facets, at the same time dense like Bach and mysterious like Transylvania, always fascinating. At first one is skeptical, because after all, the Hungarian Zoltan Kodály has only a little reputation in France among the amateurs of music (and Hary Janos given in Montpellier in 2002 and again at the Chatelet in 2004 with Gerard Depardieu has not helped), but when you have heard this recording once, you'll want to listen to it again and again. For the American cellist Bion Tsang, who recorded in Clamart, it is like making it up the Everest; for the listener, it is a pure moment.

The program on the CD, combining the Cello Sonata and the Duo for Violin and Violoncello (1914) makes sense, but is not, in itself, original. The most beautiful recordings, whether old (Janos Starker, Delos International) or more modern (Michal Kanka, Praga Digitals) actually pair the same pieces. Compared to these famous predecessors, Bion Tsang manages, though in a style somewhat remote from the tradition of central Europe, to captivate us by the clearness of his vision. "Something happens." The Duo for Violin and Violoncello that starts the recording is not (written) at the same level of the Sonata, and if the expertise of the composer is nevertheless solid, one does not find in it the obvious and constant inspiration of the Sonata. The violin is, in it, rather talkative (on the CD jacket, Baudime Jam prefers, with a lot of tact, to talk about "excitement" and "fluency") and both instruments play side by side, their voices existing together without being a real dialogue, or even less a confrontation. The result gives an impression of coldness that the honest, and a hint distant, violin of Alexander Brussilovsky does not try to compensate for. A duet, without duettists. After the concentration of the Sonata, the Capriccio (1915) offers a light and brilliant conclusion, quite refreshing.

Another interesting fact about this CD is that each one of the soloists proposes in his own way a current answer to the eternal giant spread the artist is faced with, as he is supposed to know the masterpiece and know how to make it known, and to enjoy it and make it enjoyable (even when it is all serious like in the Sonata) It is a difficult exercise that seems to be rendered even more difficult with the internet and the huge explosion of the CD market—the latest not being necessarily the reason for the first. Alexander Brussilovsky has chosen the CD. In the manner of the London Symphony Orchestra or the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, he is the director of the Suoni e Colori recording, and makes recordings regularly. Some might say with some irony that one can never be better served that by oneself, but others will know to admire the performance of this "orchestra man" who knows as well to honor his peers such as the pianist Nicolas Economou (who disappeared in 1993 at the age of 40) and whose whole publication of all of his recordings has been noticed by the media.

Now, the cellist does respect the CD, but his idea of communication through internet is more aggressive. On Bion Tsang's site (, written only in English, one can find the usual biography, but much more rare, on the link "recordings", one can listen to different whole movements of the pieces he has previously recorded on CD (Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, Kodaly of course) and his "library" page proposes some entire concert pieces, such as nothing less than the Six Suites for Violoncello Solo by Bach and some pieces by Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, and the concerti of Dvorak or Schumann. To be able to listen totally legally and freely to a young artist on his own web site, and then, convinced by his talent, to decide to go out buy his CDs because one likes his work very much, almost sounds like Utopia!

And maybe it is. Bion Tsang and Alexander Brussilovsky might lose their bet about their still stammering union between music on line and the CD, but they are risking and daring. If it is their fate, and they are totally right to dare it, they can be proud.

Read the original French review...