A debut album, which does not rely on one of the war horses the cello literature, is rather rare, taking some courage from the debutant. The record label Sono Luminus is courageous enough to present the young cellist Laura Metcalf, accompanied by the not less young pianist Matei Varga, with works that are located on the edge of the repertoire for cello and piano. Both artists have already introduced themselves in the international classical scene. Laura Metcalf, who is at home in New York and who is already known for her numerous premiered works, including works specially created for her, is also active as a cellist in the Stella Pianotrio as well as in the Cello Percussion Quartet Break of Reality and as a member of the string quartet Sybarite5. Matei Varga, as the winner of the Enesco and the Maria Canals Piano Competition, not just is a shooting star – whose fame can now fade in hand-turning – among the pianists of his generation, but already an internationally respected soloist appreciated as a serious musician with magical radiance, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In the interplay with Laura Metcalf, Matei Varga on the album First Day proves that he is not only a very good soloist, but also a formidable duo partner.
Graciela y Buenos Aires by José Bragato, spreads Latin rhythmic flair, alternating between pensive slow and wild passages, varied in a short distance, and inspired by the tango rhythm, rhythmically flexibly shaped the piano, and filmily and seductively staged by the cello.
With Alberto Ginastera's Pampeana we stay on the South American continent, more precisely in the lowlands of Pampa. That this Argentina pampa related piece acts rhapsodic with a long cello introduction, one would probably not expect. But somehow this is the case, integrating unfulfilled longing, sorrow, and pain articulated from both the instruments between passages of softly fading pianissimo, and, on the other hand, loud complaints, surprisingly terminating with a very worldly speeding.
From South America, Bohuslav Martinůs Variations on a Slovakian Theme makes us cross the Atlantic into the middle of the Slovakian landscape, more precisely into the world of Czech folk music, with its Slavic fragrance and rhythm, sung by the cello longingly, resiliently supported by the piano and sometimes not too far away from the vastness of the Hungarian Puszta.
From Martinů's home it is not too far up to George Enescu’s Romania. Of his very rare cello sonata in F minor, only a single movement exists as a handwritten manuscript. Enescu composed the work at the age of 17 during his student days in Paris: a tasting, even a pearl of an early ripened composer, lovingly staged by the cello / piano duet Metcalf / Varga.
Laura Metcalf owes her reputation as specialist for premiered works to the listener that the album First Day also contains at least two short premiered pieces. Caleb Burhams and Dan Visconti, two young composers are responsible for Imagination and Hard-Knock Stomp, respectively. Marin Marais’ widely popular "La Folia", circulating in plural castings, is presented here in a rather unknown, slender version for cello and piano, with the necessary joke quasi as a compensation for all those listeners who are not that much digging on first-time performances.
Based on the Viennese character pieces of the violinist Fritz Kreisler, the Frenchman Francis Poulenc designed Les chemins de l'amour as a tender declaration of love to the unknown adored as a heart-warming miniature with which Laura Metcalf & Matei Varga end their joint performance on their duo album, far away from Viennese Schmalz and Schmäh, simply done straightforward, including a short vocal statement of the cellist.
With First Day, Laura Metcalf and Matei Varga impressively demonstrate that it can also be very exciting in the context of a debut album, to leave courageously abandoned paths, and to put on works that are more likely to be on the edge of the repertoire. The prerequisite for such a concept is, of course, the full commitment of the artists for the chosen fringe material, the elaboration and presentation of its special quality which at the best does not need to be hidden behind the quality of the mainstream. Laura Metcalf and Matei Varga in that sense are the crafty scouts and the sound engineers of the record label Sono Luminus shine their musical paths with clear, multicolored sound, which makes it easy for the listener to follow even the smallest changes of the musical journey through two continents.
Laura Metcalf, cello
Matei Varga, piano