and Dances of Life
BARTÓK (1881-1945) Duos for Two Violas, Sz. 98 (selections) (1932) Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 (selections) (c. 1928) Romanian Christmas Carols, Sz. 57 (c. 1928) Liviu COMES (1918-2004) Colo pe din sus de sat (In the Village) for piano
(c. 1980) Sus din vǎrful muntelui (On the Mountain) for
piano (c. 1980) Dumitru MARINESCU (b.
1940?) Sǎrbǎtoarea recoltei (Harvest Song) for
piano (c. 1985) Anatol VIERU (1926-1998) Noapte (Night) for piano (c. 1965) Franz LISZT (1822-1886) Four Short Pieces for piano (c. 1880) Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Hungarische Melodie, D. 871, for piano (c. 1820) György LIGETI (1923-2006) Balada si joc (Ballad and Dance) for two violas
(1950) Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Fairy Tale” from Loutky for piano (c. 1940) Leos JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Madonna of Frydek” from On an Overgrown Path for
(piano); Razvan Popovici (viola); Christian Naş (viola).
rec. Apr. 2007, Alte Kirche Boswil, Switzerland. DDD. SOLO MUSICA
an enterprising project from a couple of the members of Ensemble
Raro (Diana Ketler and Razvan Popovici) and a friend (Christian
Naş). The program, developed at Popovici’s Sonoro Chamber
Music Festival in Bucharest, was inspired by the Transylvanian
town Sibiu’s designation as European Capital of Culture for
2007. Pianist Ketler, and violists Popovici and Naşhave assembled a program which
musically reflects Sibiu’s social role as a crossroads of
Eastern Europe. Thus we get everything here from Schubert
up to the late Liviu Comes, who passed away in 2004. The
single biggest chunk of repertory here are selections from
Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violas, but they are spread
throughout the program, serving as the common thread.
turns out that this is a fantastic idea, and it makes for
a very listenable disc, evoking the history and flavor of
the place. I would love to hear discs done like this for
many locations throughout the world. Indeed, one could imagine
an entire series of such portraits, though this title, released
by the Romanian label Solo Musica is very focused on a national
disc starts with the “Transylvanian Dance” from the Bartók Duos.
It captures that uniquely Transylvanian quality of being
both lively and darkly haunting, setting the tone for this
whole collection. The strongly rhythmical “Ruthenian Kolomeika” follows
next, with a mysterious slow section preceding the mischievous
close. Last comes the playful “Teasing Song” to end the first
set of excerpts from the Bartók. Popovici and Naş alternate
throughout as first and second viola.
follows them with a set of four modern piano works, two by
Liviu Comes, one by Dumitru Marinescu, and one by Anatol
Liviu. The first Comes piece is “In the Village,” evoking
dance rhythms in short, fragmented phrases. The tiny Marinescu
piece is even more driven by folk-dance rhythms. We return
to Comes for the lullaby “On the Mountain,” which handles
ethnic melodic material in a more impressionistic manner. “Night,” by
Anatol Vieru brings brooding chordal harmonies to hymn-like
melody, which finally closes peacefully.
next four selections — “Romanian Whirling Dance,” “Prelude
and Canon,” “Fairy Tale,” and “Hungarian Song” are more colorful
character studies from the Bartók Duos. Those are
answered by Four Short Pieces for piano by Franz Liszt.
Liszt notoriously mistook the music of Romany Gypsies as
the folk music of Hungary, but as Romania’s name suggested,
in some places folk and Romany culture became very much entwined.
In these pieces, Liszt unusually omits any kind of poetic
subtext and seems to be exploring harmonies outside the romantic
mainstream. The first, marked “Sehr langsam,” starts with
fairly ordinary romantic harmonies, but quietly tests those
boundaries with modal inflections, bringing Liszt’s music
a step closer to Eastern European folk music. The second
piece, “Moderato,” is a modest song that even more subtly
subverts expected harmonies and melodic patterns. Amazing
to think that while Wagner got most of the headlines in the
mid 1800s for experimental harmony, Liszt was doing some
of the most adventurous work in that arena. Another “Sehr
langsam” movement comes third, done in delicate watercolor
tints, sounding almost like early Debussy in its static harmonies.
An “Andantino” closes the Liszt set with a more sentimental
theme that runs into interesting harmonic complications in
its brief duration.
another Bartók Duo, the thoughtful “Ruthenian Song,” we
get a tasty dose of Schubert, with his “Hungarian Melody” for
piano. It combines a minor-key similar to the third Moment
Musical, with one of the typically melting major-key
turns of phrase. Though viewing folk music of Eastern Europe
through a largely German lens, Schubert learned from Haydn
just how much local color could be squeezed into the Germanic
mainstream, one of the reasons that classical music covers
such a range, and continues to appeal to people outside of
the original handful of countries where it was created. Following
remarkably seamlessly is an early viola duo by György Ligeti
entitled “Ballad and Dance.” The ballad is heartfelt and
folkish, while the whirling dance brings more of the riotous
color that was soon to erupt in Ligeti’s music in the explosively
experimental music he wrote in the late 1950s and throughout
up is another set of excerpts from the Bartók Duos.
A calm “Hungarian Song” starts this set, followed by two “Hungarian
Marches” with tangy harmonies. Ketler follows with the piano
versions of the first two dances from Bartók’s familiar “Romanian
Folk Dances.” Too bad all of them weren’t included here,
as they’d all be most welcome in this program.
the keystone of the arch in this program comes the largest
group selection of the Bartók Duos, a selection of
nine, starting with the guitar-like “Pizzicato.” A high-spirited “Burlesque” follows,
including some mock-serious moments which bring a smile.
The “Limping Dance” is a short piece bringing syncopations
and a tiny accelerated coda. The “Alternating Song” sees
the violists taking turns bringing melodic material to the
fore or playing soft counter-melodies. Bumptious and bold,
the “Walachian Dance” changes speeds thrice in less than
one minute. “Bagpipes” gives a lively folk dance over a drone
bass, while the “Soldier’s Song” which follows is slow and
mournful, perhaps evoking homesickness. The “Maypole Dance” sounds
like music for a children’s’ game, and the “Slovakian Song” closes
the set tenderly.
returns with a “Fairy Tale” by Bohuslav Martinů. At
3:32, it is the longest piece on the disc, and almost seems
like a miniature sonata or a tone poem for piano by contrast
with everything surrounding it. Like most fairy tales, it
takes the audience through magical adventures and resolves
with a happy ending.
More Duos follow,
starting with the alternately subdued and burly “Harvest
Song.” A passionate “Wedding Song” follows, along with a “Dance
from Maramures,” full of strong accents and arresting turns
of phrase, though only a half-minute long. Not much longer
is the milder “Pillow Dance,” followed by the bright but
enigmatic “Summer Solstice Song.” The “Matchmaking Song” is
gentle and cajoling, though less poignant than the “Hay-Gathering
Song” which succeeds it. This set closes with the longest
of the Duos included here, “Loss.” Its deep but controlled
sense of melancholy makes its two-and-a-half-minutes seem
Janáček’s “Madonna of Frydek” from On an Overgrown
Path seems all the more radiant, coming after “Loss.” Janáček’s
bell-like piano tones are caught particularly attractively
in this recording. The ominous tread of pilgrims threatens
to overwhelm the delicate grace of the radiant passages,
but peace wins out in the end.
final selections from the Bartók Duos are four “New
Years Greetings,” the first of which has some winningly introspective
muted playing. The other three are joyous, inquisitive, and
friendly, respectively. The disc closes with the ten “Romanian
Christmas Carols, Series 1,” for piano, presented complete
and in order, alternating moods of celebration and adoration.
playing is strong and clear, but rivaling Andras Schiff’s
rendition of “Madonna of Frydek” for wistfulness on the latter’s
Decca disc of Janáček chamber music. Popovici and Naş are
colorful and buoyant in the viola works, finding a wide range
of expression in the Bartók miniatures. All the players are
captured in very handsome studio sound, which runs with open
air from track to track. In other words, one doesn’t hear
the room sound of the studio fade out between every track,
which would disrupt the continuous flow of a program of miniatures
like this. The only bad thing is the tri-lingual booklet
and the back of the packaging for the disc. Everything is
in such small print, and at times printed in colors not contrastingly
greatly from the background, I had to pull out a magnifying
glass to read it, and I’m only middle-aged. I hesitate to
think what someone with truly bad eyesight would be able
to do with this printing. Mind you, the packaging looks quite
beautiful, but practicality should come into the equation
somewhere. But for those who aren’t too worried about sorting
out exactly which track is which, and if sterling sound doesn’t
matter to you, this full-price disc is also available for
MP3 downloads at super-budget price.
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