Twenty-fifteen marked the centennial of the composition of the Sonata for Solo Cello by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály. To commemorate the anniversary, cellist Hannah Addario-Berry conceived the Scordatura Project, a program of music featuring the Kodály sonata along with commissioned works for cello by contemporary composers which use the same systematic detuning—the scordatura of the title–as the sonata.
A technically challenging composition, the Kodály sonata was one of the first pieces written for unaccompanied cello since the Bach suites. What distinguishes it is its grounding in a distinctive modality and tuning; Kodály based much of the musical material on Hungarian folk sources, and called for detuning the cello’s two lowest strings down a half step. Doing so produces a B minor seventh chord on the instrument’s open strings, which adds resonance to the work’s predominant modes. Addario-Berry’s interpretation is robust and liquid, keeping in the foreground the sonata’s origins in song.
The release’s other highlights include Eric Kenneth Malcom Clark’s Ekpyrotic: Layerings IV, which appears in a shorter and a longer version. Drawing on contemporary electronic technologies and acoustic techniques, the piece exploits micro-irregularities in the pitch, phrasing and intonation of both voice and cello by taking repeated material and looping and superimposing it into a thickening mass of close-but-not-identical figures. The longer and more dramatic of the two versions builds to a high density, microtonally discordant drone.
Addario-Berry includes several less abstract, more songlike compositions in the collection, the most intriguing of which is Calor, by composer Jerry Liu. Liu’s score specifies pitches but not their rhythmic values; likewise, measures are unmetered. This allows the performer broad discretion in phrasing and forming an overall narrative arc. Addario-Berry’s interpretation brings out the natural lyricism in her playing, which indeed is evident throughout the entire set of music.