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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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 time… the most important composition for the violin
alone since Bach.” - see ‘Bartók Remembered’
by Malcolm Gillies, Faber and Faber, London 1990.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf