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Leon KIRCHNER (b. 1919)
Duo for Violin and Piano (1947) [11:09]
Elisabeth Perry, violin; Joel Sachs, piano
"Flutings" from Lily (1973) [3:13]
Jayn Rosenfeld, flute
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1954) [14:25]
Geoffrey Michaels, violin; Beverly Lauridsen, cello; Joel Sachs, piano
Piano Sonata (1948) [14:46]
Cheryl Seltzer, piano
Triptych (1986/88) [20:53]
Maria Kitsopoulos, cello; Mark Steinberg, violin
Triptych recorded New York, 1992. All others recorded New York, 1983


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It’s good to see Naxos revivifying – for the main part in this disc – a Musical Heritage Society LP recorded back in 1983. The exception is Triptych, written during 1986 and 1988 and recorded in 1992 by the same forces. The five chamber works span forty-five years from the 1947 Duo to the Triptych. There’s nothing from the 1960s but every other decade is covered.

The Duo is a powerfully argued piece. Some of its more disconsolate passages recall the writing of Berg’s Violin Concerto and the lyric drive alternates with an energetic cragginess, with an increasingly urgent tangent of attack. There are lots of opportunities for the expression of bowing colour and a dramatic piano part. Importantly, as the title baldly suggests, it’s a real Duo for the two instruments, which is not always the case in other works even when the equality of instruments is implied. The middle section is lyrical and slow with chances for playing high up the fingerboard and pizzicato before a pulsating rhythm leads one to a frantic dance that finally, unexpectedly runs out of steam.

“Flutings” from Lily, Kirchner’s 1973 opera based on Saul Bellow’s Henderson, The Rain King is an evocative and short flute solo and in programming terms serves a dual purpose in bringing some evocative, exotic colour after the Duo and also preparing the way for the tough and sinewy Trio. Allied to these qualities is an engagingly elastic melody line but throughout the trio one is aware of abrasion and outburst. Written continuously but formed from two interdependent movements the sense of oscillation and unease, of surging and sapping tension, is palpable and unremitting for all the pliant lyrical material that is thrown into sharp relief. It’s not an easy quarter of an hour listen.

The Piano Sonata was written in 1948 and after some declamatory moments launches into some driving animation, taking in bell like sonorities, clear moments derived from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and moments of refined reflection. There’s a fearsome moto perpetuo-like Allegro risoluto. Triptych strikes a more melancholic note. The opening movement is derived from Kirchner’s For Solo Violin and is recast for solo cello. When the violin joins a more voracious texture is generated and increasingly a driving lyricism that is powerfully communicative and even – unusual in this composer – moments that seem to summon up late nineteenth century procedure – and even at one or two moments almost vestigial trace elements of the Elgar Violin Concerto’s cadential passages.

I must admit that I respond much more powerfully to the Triptych and the 1947 Duo than to the Piano Sonata and the Trio, which are altogether more hermetic and forbidding works, forged from a less directly communicative anvil. Others may well disagree. But the performers are worthy ambassadors and strike the right note throughout, whether yielding or defiant.

Jonathan Woolf 

see also Review by John Leeman




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