Béla Bartók Violin Sonatas Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

As a duo they're breathtaking, with Tetzlaff soaring sweetly over Bartok's gritty...

Andrew McGregor 2004

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.

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