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Bartok: Violinsonaten 1 & 2/Rhapsodien 1 & 2/+
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This is the second volume in a series devoted to the works for strings by Béla Bartók, with James Ehnes the featured soloist. Earlier this year, Ehnes recorded the Violin and Viola Concertos (CHAN 10690), which was made Disc of the Month in Gramophone magazine. On this new recording, he turns to the Violin Sonatas and Rhapsodies, complemented by the earliest surviving work by Bartók for violin and piano, an Andante. He is accompanied by the pianist Andrew Armstrong. Dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Adila dArányi, the sonatas for violin and piano were composed in 1921 22, around the same time as the highly successful ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin. Of the two works, the Sonata in C sharp minor is the more traditional in terms of its structure, and characterised by a mood that is sometimes exhilarated, sometimes turbulent but always virtuosic. The finale builds from a series of increasingly wild dances, folk-like in style but entirely expressionistic. In the Sonata in C major, Bartók removes himself from classical form and traditional tonal practice, calling on the violinist to distance himself from the romantic manner of playing. At several points, for example, the violin is played without vibrato, producing an ethereally cool and distant sound. The improvisatory character is strong throughout, as the work repeatedly alternates between the quiet and thoughtful, and the stormy and strident. The ending, in contrast to the earlier sonata, is understated, emotional, and expressive. Bartóks two rhapsodies for piano and violin, dedicated respectively to Joseph Szigeti and Zoltán Székely, are steeped in the tradition of Hungarian folk music. Exuberant and infectious, the works are heavily inspired by the csárdás, the national dance of Hungary, and display the traditional pairing of lassú (slow) and friss (lively) movements.
James Ehnes brings plenty of spice, swagger and spirited folk-like energy to Bartok's two rhapsodies, ending the first of them with a return to the slow music of the start but recording on a separate track Bartok's more agitated alternative final bars. Partnered with piquancy and vitality by Andrew Armstrong, Ehnes is thoroughly in his element here, as he is in the two sonatas, both musicians blending subtlety of nuance with evocative colour and animated passion. ***** --Daily Telegraph,04/02/12
Ehnes and Armstrong provide an exceedingly generous programme, expertly engineered, well planned, beautifully executed. --Gramophone,Mar'12
Gideon Kremer's incendiary accounts of these works are an interpretive benchmark, while those by Isabelle Faust launched her career in impressive fashion, yet Ehnes is no less probing and benefits from undoubtedly the best recorded balance between violin and piano. A second volume...is keenly awaited. --IRR,Feb'12
Performances of outstanding musical insight and technical brilliance. Performance***** Recording***** --BBC Music Magazine,Mar'12
James Ehnes brings to the two rhapsodies a superheated tonal intensity. He can be delicate of course, and has real rhythmic bite, but this is red-blooded playing, the bow quarrying into the string to match the rich and varied vibrato, and when Ehnes is in full flow high in the G string or dashing off handfuls of double-stops it's thrilling stuff. --The Strad, Apr'12
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Some of the material, which is little known, truly reveals Bartok's early folk music interests.
The two sonatas date from the early twenties, when Bartok’s style was at its wildest and perhaps most complex – at least the two sonatas belong to his most harmonically and structurally complex works; they’re – at least compared to the rhapsodies – certainly not easy listening, but, boy, how one’s efforts and concentration are rewarded. I have no problem judging these two be among the greatest violin sonatas ever written. Though the music is tonal, both works are highly dissonant, powerful and even aggressive, but beyond that the two works are also pretty contrasted in character. The first is in a traditional three-movement form, with a ferocious and flickering first movement, a lyrical second movement and a barbaric third. The second is cast in one movement and is quite compact – perhaps even structurally “dense” – but in two distinguishable section, the first one slow and the second faster. As a bonus we also get the pleasant, little and rather untypical Andante
Now, there are admittedly a number of first-rate recordings of the main works on this disc out there; yet I don’t think Ehnes and Armstrong (the piano usually plays an equal part in these works) need fear the competition overly much. I suppose one could say that they strike something of a middle ground between the more transparent and accessible approach of Tetzlaff and Andsnes, and the most fiery ones, such as the old and legendary performance of the second sonata by Szigeti and the composer himself. If so, the present performances do not feel at all like a compromise; this is wonderful, powerful, fierce but nuanced playing of the highest caliber. The sound is very good. Strongly recommended.
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