Short measure at 55 minutes, certainly,
but this is a wonderful CD. It is on
a level with Susskind's excellent Wooden
Prince (BR1308: review
) and should be mentioned in the same
breath. The only pity is the presentation,
in which the booklet notes only refer
to the First Sonata and say, '(the)
remarks are, to a large extent, also
applicable to the second [sonata], written
one year later'.
Robert Mann was founder
and first violin of the Juilliard Quartet
until 1998; Leonid Hambro has been official
pianist of the New York Philharmonic.
Together they perform miracles, seemingly
perfectly attuned to Bartók's
idiom. Hambro's roulades are a pleasure,
while it is Mann's expressive playing
that remains in the memory. Both players
demonstrate an affinity for the fantastic.
Of particular note are Mann's intensely
aching lines and the lightness and sure
rhythm of Hambro. Try the opening of
the second movement for lyricism defined,
on the long solo line, here sweet-toned
and impressively captured by the 1950s
recording. If only the piano when it
enters (around 1'30) had had more body.
Yet the nightmarish processional later
in this movement is visceral in its
effect; violin stopping is a model of
its kind. The folksy, gutsy violin playing
of the finale in tandem with some superb
piano playing brings us close to the
spirit of the composer. The closing
pages are like an Hungarian hoe-down.
The Second Sonata poses
other challenges, and ones that are
met wholeheartedly by Mann and Hambro.
The players seem to see a kinship between
this piece and Schoenberg's much later
(1949) Op. 47 Phantasy. The overall
conception is absolutely flawless, as
is the players' conviction. The dance
sections are infectious and tuning and
timing are spot-on. This is a pleasure
to listen to.