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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890–1959)
Sonatina for two violins and piano (1930) [12:41]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975) (arr. Lev Atovmyan)
Three Violin Duets (1933/1955) [7:02]
Darius MILHAUD (1892–1974)
Sonata for two violins and piano, op.15 (1914) [16:00]
Isang YUN (1917–1995)
Sonatina for two violins (1983) [13:44]
Pezzo Fantastioso (1988) [10:16]
Angela and Jennifer Chun (violins), Nelson Padgett (piano)
rec. June 1998, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, New York DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907444 [59:45]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a real mixed bag of a recital, with music ranging from neo-classicism to modernism and free tonality, but in a strange way it works despite the disparity of musical language and styles.
Martinů’s Sonatina is a typical piece of neo-classicism in his usual manner. The four movements are short and pithy with some lovely interplay between the two violins. Shostakovich’s Duets derive from different sources, written over a twenty year period. They are delightful and pleasing miniatures.
Milhaud’s Sonata is the biggest work here. It’s an early composition, pre-dating his two most well known works – La Cration du Monde and Le Boeuf sur le Toit – and although it is light in texture, it’s slightly more serious than either of the other pieces named, but, like the very best of Milhaud, it is full of charm. The first movement is amiable with lots of cross-talk from the violins. Somewhat surprisingly, the piano keeps playing a phrase which sounds uncannily like the opening moments of Ravel’s 1927 Violin Sonata. The slow movement has the violins muted and is a very striking nocturne. The finale is spirited but has an occasional tinge of sadness. Overall, it’s a lovely piece, without any padding, which makes its effect with the simplest of means.
Isang Yun’s Sonatina is an austere work. The music is tonally ambiguous, predominantly slow and quiet, and the violins seem to meander in a meaningless way, going nowhere. Then, as the music grows more passionate, a louder, and slightly faster, middle section breaks the atmosphere of repose – the violins, according to the notes, “…suggest nightingales on ecstasy, or perhaps ecstatic nightingales.” I think the latter is a better description if only because if the birds really were on ecstasy they wouldn’t sing as ardently, or coherently, as this. The music of the opening returns, but we hear it with different ears, because of the middle section, and it feels to be more beautiful, more atmospheric. It’s a difficult listen but with repeated hearings the work slowly gives away its secrets and you’ll find it quite attractive. It easily fits in the scheme of the recital.
The Pezzo Fantastioso is an overtly virtuosic work. The music takes the idea, not the music, of the middle of the Sonatina and embellishes it with fioritura. The violins seem to sing of spiritual and rapturous love and as the piece progresses the music grows in intensity and richness before calming down and coming to a gentle repose. This is much simpler than the Sonatina but no less rewarding.
Sisters Angela and Jennifer Chun studied at the Juilliard School in New York and later in Switzerland with Nathan Milstein. Since making their debut at Carnegie Hall they have built an international reputation with an interest in contemporary music, collaborating with several composers. They play a 1734 Domenico Montagnana and the 1662 Amati known as The Goding and their sound is pure and refined. In the first three works they are ably accompanied by Nelson Padgett.
The recording is bright and clear, the notes good, if, with some unusual uses of English, and the booklet has full page photographs of the composers - always a good idea in my opinion. The disk is well presented in a gatefold sleeve.
I hope that the inclusion of the pieces by Isang Yun won’t scare anyone off who is interested in the other works because there is much to enjoy here.
Bob Briggs


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