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On her second COBRA album Nuala McKenna has once again made a selection of particularly beautiful 20th century pieces which also show her exceptional talent as a cellist. She is here to be heard in a duo together with Robert Kulek. All three composers wrote the works brought on this album DUO in disturbing and turbulent times; during a world war.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Cellosonata No.1, premiered in 1940, is an exciting, dramatic work and the melodies with a Czech character convey his nostalgia for his homeland. Martinů was persecuted by the Nazi regime because of his ties to the Czech resistance movement and thus he fled to the United States with his family in 1940. He called the premiere of his first cello sonata the ‘last greeting from a better world’.

Francis Poulenc’s safety was endangered during the Nazi regime due to his homosexuality and his ties to the resistance movement ‘Front National des Musiciens’ which had close connections to persecuted musicians such as Milhaud and Hindemith. Poulenc composed his Sonata for cello and piano in 1940 shortly after being discharged from military service following France’s capitulation to Germany. It took another eight years for the composition to be completed so that it could be finally premiered in 1949. The sonata was received with little enthusiasm. Some critics rated it as ‘pleasant but nothing more..’ Paul

Hindemith’s early works 3 pieces for cello and piano Op.8 were composed in 1917, the third year of World War I, shortly before being drafted into military service. Between 1913 and 1920, disturbing times and his circle of young conservatory friends inspired Hindemith to write a total of seven so-called ‘dramatic masterpieces’ – whimsical, almost surrealistic pieces whose subjects usually have an autobiographical background. Later he dismissed his works from this creative period as ‘unbearable’, but towards the end of his life he saw these works in a different perspective and attempted to publish them.

Since 2018 the German-Irish cellist Nuala McKenna holds the position of solo cellist in the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen conducted by Paavo Järvi. She has performed concerts with renowned artists such as Maria João Pires, the Talich Quartet, Boris Garlitsky, Augustin Dumay, Olli Mustonen and Jean-Guihen Queyras and has performed as a soloist with among others the Göttinger Sinfonieorchester, Theater Erfurt, Kammerorchester Kiel. She is artistic leader of her own festival ‘Musikfest Kahleby’ which was founded in summer 2016. Nuala McKenna has been awarded a Diapason d’Or, the most prestigious of French music magazine award as well as the ‘Clef d’Or Resmusica’ award for her debut COBRA album SOLO, released in March, 2021.

Thanks to his versatility as a collaborative pianist, Robert Kulek, regularly performs with some of the foremost instrumentalists, including Nikolaj Szeps- Znaider, Arabella Steinbacher and Maria Dueñas. He has also worked with such distinguished musicians such as Kyung-Wah Chung, Gil Shaham, Julia Fischer, Julian Rachlin as well as the Jerusalem, Vogler and Aviv Quartets. He has received high critical acclaim for his work in Europe, North America and the Far East. Robert Kulek is passionately committed to teaching and is a faculty member of the Hochschule für Music und Tanz Köln, the Conservatory of Amsterdam and the Sweelinck Academy for Young Talent.


Cellosonata No.1: I. Poco Allegro (Bohuslav Martinu)
Cellosonata No.1: II. Lento (Bohuslav Martinu)
Cellosonata No.1: III. Allegro con brio (Bohuslav Martinu)
Sonata for cello and piano: I. Allegro – Tempo di Marcia (Francis Poulenc)
Sonata for cello and piano: II. Cavatine (Francis Poulenc)
Sonata for cello and piano: III. Ballabile (Francis Poulenc)
Sonata for cello and piano: IV. Finale (Francis Poulenc)
3 pieces for cello and piano Op. 8: Capriccio (Paul Hindemith)
3 pieces for cello and piano Op. 8: Phantasiestück (Paul Hindemith)
3 pieces for cello and piano Op. 8: Scherzo (Paul Hindemith)

Additional information




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Recording Location

Westvest Church, Schiedam (The Netherlands)

Producer, recording engineer

Tom Peeters

Original recording format



Bruel & Kjaer 4003, Neumann modified by Rens Heijnis
Neumann KU-100 (Binaural) modified by Rens Heijnis
Sonodere MPM-81


Acoustic Revive

Press reviews

BBC Music Magazine 4 out of 5

“The German Irish cellist’s notably warm singing tone draws the listener in right from the start of the first movement.”

Positive Feedback, October 2023

This album of works by Martinů, Poulenc and Hindemith is an excellent return to the recording studio for Nuala McKenna as she very successfully takes on three challenging 20th century works for cello and piano. What an utter delight!…Of course, any duo is a partnership and she is excellently matched with American pianist Robert Kulek. In recordings of music such of this, it is really enjoyable to hear musicians in equal partnership…McKenna and Kulek perform these works with an attractive mix of intensity, drama, longing, and loving beauty. In each case, we get a rewarding gift of fine musicianship and technical excellence.

The recording is as excellent as I have come to expect from Cobra Records’ owner and recording engineer Tom Peeters. Again we have an intimate, utterly natural sounding capture of two musicians in a very nice acoustic setting, with a perfect balance of direct and reflected sound. 

Native DSD, October 2023

Her eloquent style is eminently suited to bringing the three war-time Sonatas to full bloom. This applies in particular to Poulenc’s which was in his time discarded as having no real importance. Nuala’s reading will change your mind completely… McKenna could not have wished for a better companion. Kulek’s expertise in this field is widely known to be among the very best available….As the saying goes: ‘It takes two to tango’. Both duo partners take full responsibility for the end result. By the same token, both inspire one another to arrive at a higher level as though one plus one makes three. And that is the magic of this new release.


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