July 27, 2017


Ives: Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano; Bolcom: Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano; Corigliano: Sonata for Violin and Piano. Ching-Yi Lin, violin; Zachary Lopes, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.

Lutoslawski: Recitativo e Arioso for Violin and Piano; Subito for Violin and Piano; Partita for Violin and Piano; Franco Donatoni: Argot—Due Pezzi per Violino; Boulez: Anthèmes I pour Violon Seul. Véronique Mathieu, violin; Jasmin Arakawa, piano. Navona. $14.99.

Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Cello; Honegger: Sonatina for Violin and Cello; Erwin Schulhoff: Duo for Violin and Cello. Elaris Duo (Larisa Elisha, violin; Steven Elisha, cello). MSR Classics. $12.95.

Boyd Meets Girl: Music for Guitar and Cello by Jaime Zenamon, Fauré, Bach, Ross Edwards, Radamés Gnattali, Ástor Piazzolla, de Falla, Arvo Pärt, and Michael Jackson. Rupert Boyd, guitar; Laura Metcalf, cello. Sono Luminus. $15.99.

     It has become increasingly common for CDs to mix music in ways that concerts and recitals have done for a long time, combining more-familiar works with less-known ones so as to draw listeners into new experiences by enticing them by using material with which they are already comfortable. A new MSR Classics CD featuring Ching-Yi Lin and Zachary Lopes does not include any piece that is exceptionally well-known, but nevertheless fits this pattern fairly well through the performers’ choice of Ives’ Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano to lead off the recording – rather than, for instance, the more gnarly No. 1. The second of Ives’ four sonatas for this instrumental combination dates to the years 1903-10 (although the CD says “c. 1914,” actually the year of the third sonata’s completion). The second sonata is an accessible work, certainly by Ives’ standards, with an opening movement that is easy to follow despite its rhythmic complexity, a second movement packed with musical quotations (of which Ives was so fond) and with some strongly accented ragtime elements, and a conclusion contrasting a kind of quiet strength from the first movement with some of the exuberance of the second. The movements’ titles – “Autumn,” “In the Barn” and “The Revival” – hint broadly at their emotional content, and Lin and Lopes play them with sensitivity. William Bolcom’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (1979) also sports titles for two of its four movements: “Summer Dreams” for the first and “In Memory of Joe Venuti” for the conclusion. The second movement’s designation, “Brutal, fast,” also makes its intended effect clear. The second movement actually sounds a bit like something Ives might have written, but the overall effect of this sonata is more jazzy and affectionate: Bolcom was inspired to write it after meeting jazz violinist Joe Venuti, in whose memory the finale was completed. The writing is largely tonal and somewhat conventional within its jazz orientation, and the first movement in particular has elements of “blues” about it. Lin and Lopes manage the work’s moods well, and also do a fine job with John Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963). This too is primarily a tonal work, although it has some polytonal sections and some atonality as well. The most challenging elements here for performers are the way the sonata’s rhythms change constantly – in this respect the work is similar to some by Ives – and the way the two instruments are so carefully balanced that each player must be careful not to outshine or overshadow the other. Both Corigliano and Bolcom reflect elements of Ives’ music to a certain extent, and listeners who know the Ives sonata (and his three others for violin and piano) will find their musical experience enlivened and expanded by this well-played, well-recorded CD.

     The music most likely to be familiar on a new Navona CD featuring Véronique Mathieu and Jasmin Arakawa is that of Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994), whose three violin-and-piano pieces here have a certain degree of classical poise and draw rather clearly on forms from the Romantic era and before. The five-movement Partita for Violin and Piano is a suite that is essentially an expanded sonata: there are three primary movements interspersed with two minute-long “ad libitum” sections that sound significantly more “modern” than do the movements they separate. Subito, as its name indicates, is a study in sudden musical shifts, and Recitativo e Arioso is based on operatic forms and is suitably declamatory and expressive. Even listeners not highly familiar with Lutoslawski’s work will be able to follow the Polish composer’s thinking and forays into extended tonality easily, thanks to the good pacing and balance that Mathieu and Arakawa bring to this material. The other works on the disc are for solo violin and are an altogether different experience. Argot—Due Pezzi per Violino by Franco Donatoni (1927-2000) is a strongly accented two-movement work that explores and exploits numerous violin techniques in a manner that, unfortunately, too often comes across as empty display. Mathieu handles the material with considerable skill, but the near-endless parade of rhythmic and harmonic changes, the technical challenges that constantly draw attention to themselves, the harmonics and open-string contrasts, all go on at greater length than their communicative potential justifies. This is a display piece that violinists may find congenial but that has less to say to everyday listeners. Anthèmes I by Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) is similar in many ways: it too offers a compendium of technical complexities designed to extract a wide variety of sounds form the violin; and while some portions, notably an extended pizzicato section, are intriguing, the work as a whole comes across as a series of stops and starts whose purpose for listeners (as opposed to performers) is less than apparent.

     The three works played by the Elaris Duo on a new MSR Classics release are considerably more straightforward. The most interesting thing about this CD is the pairing of violin with cello rather than either stringed instrument with piano. This means that even though music of the three composers heard here may be familiar, these specific works are unlikely to be. Ravel’s Sonata and Schulhoff’s Duo date to the 1920s (1920-22 and 1925, respectively), while Honegger’s Sonatina is somewhat later (1932). But all three works spring from a similar postwar (that is, after World War I) rethinking of musical forms, harmony and expressiveness. Ravel’s work is dedicated to Debussy, who had died in 1918, and while it is not written entirely in Impressionist mode, its expressive language clearly partakes of that musical approach. This is, however, a large-scale work with stronger accents and wider dynamic range than listeners accustomed to Debussy might expect – and the wife-and-husband team of Larisa and Steven Elisha emphasizes those elements to good effect, being especially impressive in the highly virtuosic second movement. As for Schulhoff (1894-1942), he dedicated his Duoto Master Leos Janácek,” and again, although the music here does not specifically follow anything by Janácek, it does partake of the Czech composer’s sensibilities and concerns. The second movement does so in obvious ways, being labeled Zingaresca, but the connection is otherwise more subtle: Schulhoff was following Janácek in an attempt to create new musical structures and designs that would fit the postwar world without being forced into the narrow channel of twelvetone championed by Schoenberg and his followers. Again, the violinist and cellist have a strong sense of style and play well with – and against – each other here. They are also sensitive to the pervasive polyphony of Honegger’s Sonatina, and here they show an altogether winning sense of humor in their handling of the last movement’s recitatives. The CD as a whole offers a rather unusual instrumental combination and three pieces whose differing sensibilities give the performers ample chances to express themselves both in virtuosity and in emotional involvement.

     Another married-couple CD featuring an unusual instrumental combination appears on Sono Luminus with the somewhat-too-cute title, “Boyd Meets Girl.” Perhaps the title choice reflects the impossibility of coming up with any unifying description of the nine pieces heard here: really, the works have nothing significant in common other than the interest of Rupert Boyd and Laura Metcalf in playing them. Thus, the disc is essentially a 20-track offering of encores. Some of the music is sonically interesting (four Bach two-part inventions arranged by the performers), and some blends and contrasts the instruments with considerable skill (Reflexões No. 6 by Brazilian composer and guitarist Jaime Zenamon [born 1953]). And in one work, Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt (born 1935), Metcalf intrigues by playing on the cello at the original violin pitch – showing her virtuosity and the cello’s extended-range capabilities at the same time. But really, the disc is all over the place musically and emotively. Fauré’s nostalgic Pavane is here, and so is Human Nature from the 1982 album Thriller by Michael Jackson (the song was actually composed by Steve Porcaro and John Bettis). These are curiosities more than anything else. Arafura Arioso by Ross Edwards (born 1943) is here given its première recording in the composer’s arrangement for guitar and cello – but the performers miss an opportunity by offering only the first movement, Allegretto Comodo, from the cello-and-guitar sonata by Radamés Gnattali (1906-1988). This Brazilian composer’s full sonata, contrasted with the Zenamon work and Café 1930 by Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) – the second movement of Histoire du Tango, originally for flute and guitar – would have been more thought-provoking than the somewhat thrown-together feeling of this CD. Everything here is quite well-played – the Siete Canciones Populares Españolas by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) come off particularly stylishly – but the CD never settles into any sense of musical consistency: the performers simply toss off one work and then move to the next without any sense of connectedness. Listeners intrigued by this instrumental combination and interested in hearing some very fine, virtuosic and sensitive playing will enjoy the disc. Its musical substance, however, is on the thin side.

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