WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN THIS PIECE
Sonata for Solo Violoncello
by Ng Yu Hng
Brian Patrick Bromberg
20 June, 2023
20 June, 2023
Ng Yu Hng’s Sonata for Solo Violoncello is something of an odyssey for the player and the listener. Few pieces take you on the kind of journey that Yu Hng takes you on, and this sonata is a marvellous one. So many modern solo cello works seem overly concerned with playing the instrument in new ways using new extended techniques. While this might be interesting to explore it often seems to be done at the expense of writing quality, playable, cello music. Yu Hng’s piece doesn’t fall into this category, on the contrary the composer’s exploration of extended techniques feels more like the outgrowth of excellent cello writing. There are aspects of ancient music as well as a brief passage based on a Ukrainian choral piece.
The sonata includes moments of bursting light, and crushing darkness often set in close proximity. This is a piece that explores raw, unrestrained emotion in a way that few other pieces come close to. The sonata is constructed in a three movement form with 2 brief interludes which separate the piece into 2 symmetrical halves that total approximately 22 minutes in length. The piece opens with an idiomatic and glistening movement based on the C harmonic series. If you are looking for cello writing that explores all of the natural harmonic possibilities of the cello, look no further. The composer showcases the cello’s ability to play some slightly less common harmonics, and with a bit of practise they can speak quite clearly compared to other string instruments.
After a final harmonic glissando up the C string we come to the first interlude. The first movement works so well because the composer avoids any melodic writing and saves it for the first interlude. This short movement is written in just intonation and is intended to resemble plainchant. It is a great introduction to playing quarter-tones because they are presented in a slow, methodical and melodic way. To practise playing in this kind of intonation I find playing with drone notes absolutely essential. You may also find listening to other pieces written in just-intonation helpful in re-tuning your ear to these new nuances. When played correctly, the effect is very cool.
Examples of just intonation