This 1999 release has been a wonderful discovery for me. Violinist Nigel Kennedy and cellist Lynn Harrell obviously put a lot of thought into what should be included and they play exceptionally well, even by their elevated standards. Right around the time of this recording, I had the pleasure of hearing Lynn Harrell play with Anne-Sophie Mutter at Carnegie Hall and it was a memorable, vivid performance that forms one of the highlights of my concertgoing memories, so Harrell was flourishing and doing some really excellent musicmaking in this period.
The CD includes Zoltan Kodaly's Duo for violin & cello (1914) and Maurice Ravel's Sonata (1922) for the same combination. (No other musicians join Harrell & Kennedy.) The Ravel starts off the disc - it is perhaps his one work which shows an Eastern European influence (we know he had heard Bela Bartok's music and there is a possibility he knew Kodaly's). It requires some repeated listening, and is fairly high on the difficulty level without sounding quite like Ravel's more delicate impressionistic pieces, such as the Pavane or Gaspard de la nuit. I compared the Kennedy/Harrell version with the classic recording by Isidore Cohen and Timothy Eddy (on Nonesuch, from the 1970s). Both are excellent, with similar approaches, but I have a slight preference for the Cohen/Eddy performance because they appropriately take the "tres vif" more quickly than Kennedy/Harrell. This tempo selection and the sound engineering in the Nonesuch release allow for a more varied amount of expressivity and sound color. But both performances are very good.
The program also features the longer and ambitious Kodaly Duo, which is full of Hungarian folk references, but transmuted into a modern style with heavy doses of ostinatoi accompaniment. The Kodaly requires a lot of trading off between violin and cello and the deft interplay Kennedy and Harrell manage is awe-inspiring. It's first-rate chamber music playing. I compared the Kennedy/Harrell to the worthy classic 1970s recording by Josef Gingold and Janos Starker (on Delos) and prefer the Kennedy/Harrell. While Gingold/Starker are very musical on a phrase by phrase level, they tend to blend textures together, while Kennedy & Harrell present more variety, seem to have a more developed sense of the Duo's structure and, most significantly, they present an astonishing, very emotional interpretation of the slow movement that is one of this disc's many high points.
I'm not usually a fan of CDs featuring music from radically different periods, but the JS Bach and especially the Handel chaconne included here are too beautiful to complain about. In fact, I think I'm going to spin that Handel write after signing off here, it's just so great.
So this is an outstanding disc which I highly recommend.