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Bartók: Violin Sonatas CD

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BBC Review

They may be called 'sonatas', but Bartok seems to have been trying to cut himself loose from the expectations the title creates. Perhaps that's deliberate: another means of introducing a kind of nervous tension through a conflict of ideas - the rhapsodic opening of the Sonata No. 1, and the fact that the violin and piano are given their own, separate ideas to play with, which they then guard jealously from each other, rather than exploring them together. Then there's Bartok's stretched tonality, the expressive dissonances that result only partly from his use of scales and modes from eastern European folk music...the downright virtuosity of the writing, especially for piano. Remember that Bartok was writing here for himself and the brilliant violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, and he obviously thought they'd both enjoy a challenge.

Enter Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes, who individually need no introduction as top-class, intelligent performers. As a duo they're breathtaking, with Tetzlaff soaring sweetly over Bartok's gritty piano part in the Sonata No. 1, with his soft-grained sound and almost breathy phrasing bringing a vocal quality to the fiddle part. Andsnes meanwhile sounds absolutely in control of Bartok's piano part, which means that he's able to meet its demands without crossing the line into the kind of brutally percussive playing that can mar some recordings. In the Sonata No. 2 with its village fiddler's frenzy and wild gypsy attack, Tetzlaff and Andsnes are beautifully matched, without allowing the sudden changes of tempo, rhythmic dislocations and dynamic shifts to sound calculated.

Recommending the duo sonatas in this finely balanced recording is a doddle, which just leaves Tetzlaff's performance of Bartok's Solo Violin Sonata, written for Yehudi Menuhin. The tone is a little dusty in places, with a woody resonance that might make you wish for a fuller, more beautifully focused sound...but the interpretation is gripping, and with Tetzlaff you're never in doubt for a second as to where the music's heading; it's a reading of great certainty and determination. --Andrew McGregor

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to imagine Bartók served better 8 Jun. 2007
By klavierspiel - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Though he was a pianist by training, Bela Bartók produced a number of important chamber works featuring the violin. This recording by Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes features three of the most formidable, the two mature sonatas for violin and piano (an early work composed in 1903 is not counted in the standard canon) and the sonata for violin alone. The works for violin and piano date from the early 1920s, when the composer was producing some of his knottiest, most experimental work. They are highly contrasted in mood and form, the Sonata No. 1 being a full-scale cycle of three extended movements, the first passionate and rhapsodic, the second slow and lyrical, and the third an energetic finale in the composer's characteristic "barbaric" mode. The Sonata No. 2 is more compact and restrained, its one continuous movement falling into two distinct sections roughly corresponding to the traditional slow-fast dance pairing used by Liszt and by Bartók himself. Both Sonatas use the most advanced harmonic language Bartók allowed himself; although the composer insisted they were tonal and even assigned them key centers, their acerbic dissonances and fragmentary, widely ranging motivic content make them difficult listening even today. The later Sonata for Solo Violin (1944) is no less challenging for both performer and listener, though its four movements are recognizably more "classical" in character and form.

Tetzlaff's and Andsnes' performances of these works are remarkable by any standard--impeccably accurate and rhythmically secure no matter how formidable the technical difficulties, they also convey with confidence the extreme contrasts of mood and emotion inherent in the music. Bartók's deep expressiveness, often difficult to discern behind the intellect, is thus made clear. It is difficult to imagine this music being served any better than by these two artists. With recorded sound of high quality, this CD must rank as a top choice for these cornerstones of the twentieth-century chamber music repertory.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars infectious music making 6 Jun. 2005
By me - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Andsnes and Tetzlaff complement each other wonderfully here. Andsnes plays very lyrically, Tetzlaff adds just the right amount of zesty eastern European folk flavor. These are essential pieces of 20th century music, highly enjoyable. I heard A & T play the Shostakovich sonata at Carnegie Hall and happily count this among my concert highlights of the past year.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Way To Delve Deeper Into Bartók 19 Aug. 2008
By Moldyoldie - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
After several previous listening entries, mainly in the orchestral and concerto forms, I now feel comfortably inside the idiom where Bartók's Violin Sonatas firmly reside. It's where angularity and emotive phrasing supersede an often futile effort at establishing melody to make for a listening experience that ultimately comes to rest somewhere just the other side of "comfortable". In the Sonata No. 1 and No. 2, Teztlaff and Andsnes make for able and sympathetic guides, exploiting an impressive array of dynamic and tonal ranges and often exchanging the lead in their dialogue so that the listener feels as if he's overhearing a poignant, intimate conversation whose participants covertly wish to be overheard -- by turns contemplative and then nakedly expressive. This is aided by a recording scheme which gives equal weight to each instrument -- indeed, the violin is occasionally overcome in the balance. The Amazon reviewer is correct in suggesting that Tetzlaff's phrasing offers very fine intonation without added astringency, allowing Bartók's moderately and inherently astringent expression to speak effectively on its own. (By the by, there's a brief musical statement in the Sonata No. 1 which I know I've heard before, but I just can't nail it!) This is my introduction to these works and I greatly look forward to continuing on in the Bartókian journey.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Bartok 10 Jan. 2013
By I.O.Pine - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Here is a CD that lives up to its 5-star reviews. Although the CD is recorded at a lower volume level than usual, it is very clear. I am particularly impressed by the clarity of the piano part. This duo plays the two violin and piano works faster than Pauk and Jando, but are more expressive. I am also pleased that Tetzlaff's fine performance of the solo violin sonata is included.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great music 11 Jun. 2013
By raymond Obermayr - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Clear recording. I expect that of Tetzlaff. I don't think he would ever accept any production that is not excellent. Of course his artistry brings out the best of his chosen composers. Good listening forever.
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