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The Berlin Recital - Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer
CD 1
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op.121 (1851) [32:52]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945) Sonata for Solo Violin (1944) [25:08]
CD 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kinderszenen, for Solo Piano Op.15 (1838) [18:35]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1921) [33:33]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Liebesleid (1910) [4:28]; Schön Rosmarin (1910) [2:09]
Martha Argerich (piano); Gidon Kremer (violin)
rec. 11 December 2006, Großer Saal, Philharmonie, Berlin
[58:01 + 58:47]


Experience Classicsonline

Emblazoned on the cover of this EMI release is the emphatic title: The Berlin Recital. This is a title that might conjure up for some the mysterious and shadowy world of Len Deighton cold-war spy novels. I’m sure both Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer are no strangers to giving recitals in Berlin. The difference here is that for this release in December 2006 the recording engineers were at the Berlin Philharmonie to document the event. If EMI really felt that this recital was such a significant event I wonder why we have had to wait all this time for the release. Notwithstanding I’m glad that they were able to record this fine recital by a genuine doyenne and doyen of the chamber music world.

The disc opens with Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121 a score that he quickly composed in 1851. Schumann composed the work shortly after the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major Rhenish’. The sonata bears a dedication to the great violinist Ferdinand David who was also the dedicatee of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto. It seems that Schumann’s wife Clara played the sonata with Wilhelm Wasielewski the leader of the Düsseldorf orchestra. I was struck by the dark and agitated nature of the music in the opening movement Ziemlich langsam-Lebhaft where Schumann never allows the listener to rest easy. In the Sehr Lebhaft one is aware of the blustery promptings of the windswept music. A sense of exhaustion infuses the Leise, einfach leaving behind a feeling of leaden muscles. The stormy music returns in the final movement marked Bewegt interrupted by the occasional shaft of brilliant light. 

My first choice version of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor is from Kremer and Argerich. Not this live Berlin/EMI version but their passionate and vibrant 1985 studio account from La Chaux-de-Fonds on Deutsche Grammophon 419 235-2 (c/w Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor). Also worth investigating is the stirring account from Ilya Kaler and Boris Slutsky recorded at Indiana, USA in 1993 on Naxos 8.550870 (c/w Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, F.A.E. Sonata). 

Schumann composed his Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) for solo piano, Op.15 in 1838. This was a period of significant interest for him in piano music that spawned works such as the Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6; Fantasiestücke, Op. 12; Kreisleriana, Op.16 and the Piano Sonata No.2, Op.22. Described as Leichte Stücke für das Pianoforte (Simple studies for the piano forte) this is a collection of thirteen pieces for solo piano that are scenes of childhood as seen through the eyes of mature adults. At first glance these may appear mistakenly to be simple instructional pieces aimed at children but they are, in fact, miniature masterpieces of the genre.

Argerich communicates the heartbreaking strains of the Von fremden Ländern und Menschen (Of Foreign Lands and Peoples) and a sense of false conference permeates Kuriose Geschichte (A Curious Story). Within Argerich’s rhythmic vigour one can easily imagine insects scurrying frantically in Hasche-Mann (Blind Man's Bluff) that contrasts with the affection of a mother’s cuddles in the Bittendes Kind (Pleading Child). I was struck by the light-heartedness of an almost slapstick quality that Argerich conveys in the piece Glückes genug (Happiness). The authoritative and self-assured Wichtige Begebenheit (An Important Event) is followed by the heartrending tenderness of the popular Träumerei (Dreaming). Argerich is bright and swift-footed in Am Kamin (At the Fireside) with the rapid and darting activity of the Ritter vom Steckenpferd (Knight of the Hobbyhorse). A warm and cosy mood in Fast zu ernst (Almost Too Serious) precedes an atmosphere of calm and over-sensitivity that permeates the Fürchtenmachen (Frightening) interspersed with flashes of explosive energy. I enjoyed how Argerich conveys a poignant and near reverential mood in the piece Kind im Einschlummern (Child Falling Asleep) and to conclude the score a lyrical and dreamy Der Dichter spricht (The Poet Speaks) evokes a love-struck tenderness. 

Two versions of the Kinderszenen that will provide great pleasure for their great poetry and control are from Wilhelm Kempff from the early 1970s on Deutsche Grammophon 4655552 and from Alfred Brendel who made his recording in the early 1980s on Philips 4347322.  

Béla Bartók was a fine pianist who wrote extensively for the instrument. In addition he also wrote several significant works for the violin. The Sonata for solo violin was completed in New York in 1944 as a commission for Yehudi Menuhin with whom he consulted on the score. Menuhin also gave the premiere of the score at Carnegie Hall, New York City. The Sonata is cast in four movements and contains significant technical difficulties for the performer. Menuhin who initially thought the score unplayable went on to describe the sonata as, “one of the masterpieces of all timethe most important composition for the violin alone since Bach.” - see ‘Bartók Remembered’ by Malcolm Gillies, Faber and Faber, London 1990. 

In this performance from Kremer one feels the expressive freedom he is given together with the opportunity for broad technical display. In his hands the extended Tempo di ciaccona is assertive and resourceful yet remains rather forbidding. He loads the Fuga with aggression and hostility, conveying a sense of mystery and eeriness in the slow movement Melodia. I enjoyed the folk-dance infused final Presto where Kremer convivially communicates joyous contentment. 

With the Violin Sonata No.1 from 1921 Bartók was writing for himself to accompany the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi; the dedicatee of the work. Bartók and d’Aranyi premiered the ambitious three movement sonata in 1922 in London.

In the opening Allegro appassionato is a powerful and full blooded proclamation suffused with intense passion. At 3:32-7:34 I was struck by a passage of quiet introspection. A mood of stark beauty is evoked in the Adagio by the cool and still expressiveness. Erupting upon the scene is the wild and frenzied final Allegro - a spirited profusion of Hungarian peasant dances.

Of historical interest is the 1947 performance by Yehudi Menuhin playing the Violin Sonata No.1 with pianist Adolph Baller. Menuhin’s recording made in New York City is available on Naxos 8.111336 (c/w Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2).

The recital ends with a paring of two melodic rather than virtuosic Kreisler encores where Kremer’s violin takes centre-stage. Firstly we hear the agreeably relaxing Liebesleid and then the flamboyantly sumptuous Schön Rosmarin with its haughty ending.

Kremer and Argerich are distinguished and respond to each other’s artistry with a special sense of empathy and assurance. Their performances are engaging with a high degree of verve and spirit. If the applause is anything to go by the audience at the Philharmonie were in raptures. Without the benefit of being in the hall I was unable to obtain anything like the same sense of enjoyment or occasion. Sometimes you just need to be there to experience that special frisson. I found the sound quality appealing without being spectacular.

Michael Cookson

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf


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