Chiara Enderle Samatanga
Restart After the Lockdown: Bach and Cassadó for Cello Solo

St.Peter, Zurich, 2020-06-28

3.5-star rating

2020-07-11 — Original posting



First Concerts after the Lockdown

For four months, concert life in Switzerland has essentially been silent, non-existent, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the country appeared to have “mastered” the crisis, the social / physical distancing rules were gradually relaxed in June. At long last, concert organizers could start thinking about restarting public concert performances (even though after the lockdown, the incidents appear to be on the rise again).

This isn’t merely a matter of being allowed to perform events with audiences of initially 300, later up to 1000 people (provided the organizer had established viable protection measures). Maybe more than that, in the case of typical concert audiences, this required a concert organizer to be trustworthy to potential visitors, as (especially elder) people who spent the past weeks and months in isolation might only attend a public concert if they deem the event safe.

The venue for this recital (organized by Hochuli Konzert AG) was the Kirche St.Peter in Zurich, an excellent location for chamber music concerts, see my earlier reviews from that location. I have given more details about the setup in these two post-lockdown opening concerts in my report from the first of these recitals.

The Artist: Chiara Enderle Samatanga

The two concerts that day brought encounters with two Swiss artists, both of which I had encountered in previous occasions (for the first concert with the violinist Sebastian Bohren see my separate report):

In my blog, I have written about the cellist Chiara Enderle Samatanga (*1992) several times. After a brief first encounter in the context of a press conference, she participated in a chamber music concert in Zurich (2018-04-13). Soon thereafter, I heard her in a half-hour solo presentation in Lucerne (2018-05-31). 2018, Chiara Enderle became a member of the Carmina Quartet, located in Zurich. The ensemble features her parents, Matthias Enderle (first violin) and Wendy Champney (viola). See also my report from their string quartet recital in Zurich (2019-10-20).


The program for this recital had the Suite by Gaspar Cassadó i Moreu (1897 – 1966) framed by two of the Suites for cello solo by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750):

Concert & Review

Bach: Cello Suite No.3 in C major, BWV 1009

Maybe even more so than what Bach’s collection of “Sei Solo” (BWV 1007 – 1012) are for the violinists, the six suites for cello solo (BWV 1007 – 1012) are center pieces in the repertoire for cello, and every cellist will unavoidably run into at least some of these suites as part of their education. The most popular ones among the Suites are No.1 in G major, and No.3 in C major, which are also the most “accessible” ones. All of the Suites follow the baroque movement scheme Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Gigue, whereby in Suites 1 & 2 Bach inserted a pair of Menuets between the last two movements. Suites 3 & 4 feature two Bourrées in that position, and the last Suites include two Gavottes instead.

As just explained, the Suite for Cello Solo No.3 in C major, BWV 1009 features the following movements:

  1. Prélude
  2. Allemande
  3. Courante
  4. Sarabande
  5. Bourrée I / II
  6. Gigue

The Performance

The cello may have been old, but it certainly has been updated (neck length & steepness, length of the fingerboard, metal-clad strings, endpin), and also the bow was not baroque, but a modern Tourte type model. Chiara Enderle Samatanga performed her entire recital by heart.

Based on the short earlier encounters with this artist, I did not expect a “scholastic”, austere, strictly historically informed performance. Rather, I would characterize Chiara Enderle Samatanga’s playing as romantic-expressive, close to legato, though mellow, not pressed, but with elastic shaping in the individual notes and short phrases. In line with this, the artist used vibrato—though in a very natural way, not excessively.

Together with the reverberation in this venue, the relatively broad articulation often caused the performance to lose clarity and transparency. Are the acoustics maybe more suited for the violin than for the cello? That said, the artist certainly exposed the full, singing tone of her instrument: projecting into the ample space of the nave was certainly not a problem here!

I. Prélude

As outlined above, shorter, lighter articulation would have brought more transparency and clarity to the flowing lines in the Prélude. Strangely, despite the flowing articulation, the performance appeared slightly too much focused on short and mid-size phrases, which were shaped through distinct agogics. Initially, the music sounded slightly short-breathed, possibly lacking a clear overall development / phrasing arch. It seemed to take the artist well into the center of the movement (around the written-out arpeggios) to gain drive and momentum.

II. Allemande

Allemandes are often sluggish, if not somewhat portly dance movements. Here, however, it appeared youth- and playful, sometimes almost exuberant, with drive and momentum in every phrase. A pleasure to listen to! My only / main quibble was with the excess (unnecessary) emphasis on peak and closing notes (often—naturally—the empty C string), which sometimes added some clumsiness to the ending (or the highlight) of a phrase.

III. Courante

Here, the tempo was rather fast—a little too fast, especially in this acoustic environment. This led to occasional superficiality in fast figures, which were often lacking clarity. However, the main impression was that of virtuosity, drive, dancing momentum, of well-shaped phrasing arches. It’s just that with the acoustic blurring and the past pace, the artist’s details in phrasing and articulation were in danger of being lost to the listener.

IV. Sarabande

The best movement so far in this performance: retaining the swaying, the dance character, harmonious, “speaking” articulation, carefully & beautifully shaped phrases. Maybe with the amount of focus the individual phrases, there was a certain danger of (the listener) getting lost in the overall structure?

V. Bourrée I / II

The first Bourrée (C major) appeared playful, lively, full of momentum and drive. The Bourrée II almost kept the tempo of the first one, while exposing the more restrained, introverted, thoughtful nature of that short piece.

VI. Gigue

Not surprisingly, in Chiara Enderle Samatanga’s hands, the final Gigue appeared exuberant, fast, virtuosic, though with a danger of occasional superficialities in fast figures / motifs (especially in “weak” parts of a phrase).

Overall Rating: ★★★½

The dominant impression: a youth- and joyful performance, vibrant, virtuosic, often fast, occasionally carefree (if not a tad superficial) in the details…

Cassadó: Cello Suite

The Cello Suite by the Catalan composer Gaspar Cassadó i Moreu (1897 – 1966) features three movements:

  1. Preludio-Fantasia (a Zarabanda)
  2. Sardana (Danza)
  3. Intermezzo e danza finale (a Jota)

I attended a half-hour presentation recital in Lucerne, on 2018-05-31, during which Chiara Enderle Samatanga performed the last of the above movements.

The Performance

I. Preludio-Fantasia

My instant impression was that the character of this composition suits the artist’s temperament much better: she seemed to liven up in this music! Not only that, but Cassadó’s composition also seemed to profit from (or was better suited to) the acoustics of the venue.

Here, Chiara Enderle Samatanga could play out virtuosity in a movement that changed between the expression, the heat, the turmoil of highly emotional segments, intermittently retracting to “airy”, “distant” flageolet passages. Excellent music in a very good interpretation.

II. Sardana (Danza)

An enthralling dance, from flageolet chains to hurdy-gurdy segments that seemed to evoke gipsy music: multi-faceted, constantly modulating, with frequently changing moods.

III. Intermezzo e danza finale

Very much a Spanish dance, with pizzicato passages and intensely singing passages in high positions and flageolets: enthralling dance rhythms, strong rubato: joyful, hot-tempered, enthralling—fascinating!

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Bach: Cello Suite No.6 in D major, BWV 1012

Bach’s Suite for Cello Solo No.6 in D major, BWV 1012 features the following movements:

  1. Prélude
  2. Allemande
  3. Courante
  4. Sarabande
  5. Gavotte I / II
  6. Gigue

The Suite No.6 exceeds the tonal range of the other suites by far. In fact, some sources claim that this suite was written for a violoncello piccolo with five strings (C — G — D — A — E). Some also claim that this suite was written for the viola (or cello) da spalla (which may or may not have been the same as a violoncello piccolo), or for a viola pomposa.

I already heard Chiara Enderle Samatanga perform the movements I, II, and VI as part of a half-hour presentation recital in Lucerne, on 2018-05-31.

The Performance

I. Prélude

Two features are prominent in this movement: the quaver triplets which repeat the same note on adjacent strings, and the passages that move into very high positions (these are definitely easier to play on a violoncello piccolo with the added E string). Chiara Enderle Samatanga again selected a fast pace. With the reverberation, this not only blurred motifs / figures, but it also made it virtually impossible for the listener to discern the string alternation in the aforementioned passages. The difficulties in this movement could also be felt from the intonation, which often was anything but impeccable.

Despite the imperfections, the performance was dominated by the artist’s exuberant temperament, her engagement, the drive and momentum, the obvious fun that she has in performing.

II. Allemande

How different this Allemande is from the one in the C major suite! And it’s a real challenge for artists! The main problem with the movement is in its written-out ornamentation that features notes as short as hemidemisemiquavers in 4/4 bars. That obviously limits the tempo to a relatively slow basic pace. This leads artists to focus on ornaments, hereby often making it impossible to maintain even traces of a dance character—plus, it makes artist and listeners lose track of the bigger and overall structures.

I certainly made these observations here, where the performance not only was devoid of dance character, but also lacked a view onto the overall, dramatic structure. The focus on individual notes, motifs and figures, rather than on larger phrases. I think that the movement should have been slightly faster: the small notes would easily tolerate some superficiality—they are ornaments, not melody, after all. That said: that Allemande is a challenge also in performances by seasoned, well-known artists!

III. Courante

An extreme contrast here: the tempo on the fast side, at the limit of what is still playable, with the occasional superficiality and details sometimes in danger of getting lost. However, the momentum, the joy of playing dominated, and here, the dance character was certainly obvious!

IV. Sarabande

Fairly romantic, very expressive, the articulation relatively broad (though not constantly legato), aiming at sonority rather than lightness. I noted a certain tendency for crescendo swelling on the last not in phrases, or in transitions between phrases. This may well have been intended—though I don’t think it’s good if this is used frequently enough for the listener to notice.

V. Gavotte I / II

I liked the overall character of the interpretation, the lightness in articulation. In the second Gavotte with its hurdy-gurdy section, Chiara Enderle kept the pace of the first one: a playful movement! Still, occasional imperfections in the intonation, as well as instances of strings responding marginally, conveyed the impression of “challenge”, “tricky to play”.

VI. Gigue

Fast, fluent, full of momentum, swaying, drive, dominated by the artist’s joy of playing, her youthfulness. The above remarks on the Gavottes apply to the Gigue as well, though.

Overall Rating: ★★★½

Chiara Enderle Samatanga’s performance made me realize (again) how demanding the D major suite is for the artist, both technically, as well as musically. There are good reasons why even the biggest cellists often return to the suites after decades, to make a second (or even third) recording. Programming this composition is a bold, if not audacious or adventurous choice and demands respect—and understanding that the interpretation, the mastership will still grow over the coming years and decades.

Encore: Bach: Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007 — I. Prélude

As encore, Chiara Enderle Samatanga selected a “safe value”—the Prélude from Bach’s first Cello Suite: popular (too popular even?), short, and far less demanding than most other suites.

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