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Joseph ACHRON (1886-1943)
À capriccio

Suite Bizarre (Cycle des Rhythmes) Op. 41
Two Pastels Op. 44
Pensée de L Auer
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840) arr. Achron
Caprices Nos. 9, 13-21, 24 (arr. by Achron 1919-23)
Ingolf Turban (violin)
Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Recorded Bayerischer Rundfunk, April and June 2003
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.438 [62.59]


This is volume one in a series entitled Musica rara Ė musica famosa. In the case of Achron this is assuredly a case of rara because outside the specialised enthusiasms of fiddle fanciers his name will probably mean very little. Born not far from Heifetz but fifteen years earlier, Achron studied in St Petersburg with Leopold Auer and was composing morceaux by his twenties. One of the first recorded instances of Achronís association with Heifetz came in a 1915 newspaper report of the fourteen year old playing Achronís Dance Improvisation with the composerís brother, Isidor, later a well-known accompanist of Heifetzís. Achron wrote his first and third violin concertos for Heifetz along with numerous genre pieces once they had both gravitated to America. Nor did he neglect his first love, the violin, regularly performing Ė indeed he played alongside Heifetz and Zimbalist at Auerís 80th birthday celebratory evening in 1925.

Achron was a small but significant figure and these recordings constitute a welcome opportunity to get to grips with his music, not least the suite, and to increase our scanty knowledge of all but his genre work (some recorded by Heifetz of course). In nine movements the Suite Bizarre lives up to its name in its ceaseless rhythmic games (what else can one expect of movements entitled Marche grotesque and Grimaces?) It calls for some considerable virtuosity, not least as regards intonation in alt in Étincelles, the opener, and what a nasty opener as well. One can sample Achronís inherent gift for lyricism as well in the fourth movement, Terrasses du palais or his accomplishment in matters of tensile drive in the moto perpetuo bustle of the strangely named Pastorale or the finger busting demands of the final Marche grotesque. His Pastels were dedicated to fellow Auer student, the patrician Efrem Zimbalist; the first is sonorous and attractive and the second sounds rather like updated Drdla. The nostalgic piece written for Auer has a charming waltz embedded into it.

Some interest will attend to Achronís reworking of the Paganini Caprices Ė we have I believe all that he arranged or that are still extant. The piano part most commonly employed at this time was Davidís though many violinists would arrange their own skeletal part for individual use. Achron does a number of things to change the character of many of these Caprices as Ingolf Turban himself relates in the booklet notes. He changes tempo indications and such as matters of dynamics and the result, in view of the virtuosic piano part, is to bring stability to the violin and piano parts, which had formerly been merely a question of master and serf. So we get some explicitly mocking piano passages in No. 13 as the accompaniment follows crab wise the violin line, actually drawing the ear away from the melody line (this canít have been Achronís intention, surely) to the ingenious piano part . Achronís are certainly no skeletal fill-ins, as he uses the piano to reinforce the dramatic character of the music (No. 16) or to insert pert little lines and chords (No. 19) or even to utilise some ear-catching chordal progressions, romanticised decoration and runs in the famous 24th.

Both musicians are clearly enthusiastic and authoritative exponents. Nemtsov brings acumen to bear on the piano part whilst Turban is notably good in the fearless higher reaches of the fingerboard. Some fine excavation work has gone into this well produced CD.

Jonathan Woolf


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