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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz 117 (1944) [25:44]
Violin Sonata No.1 Sz 75 (1921) [33:25]
Violin Sonata No. 2 Sz 76 (1922) [19:27]
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
rec. Sendesaal des Funkhauses, Cologne, January 2003 
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5181772 [78:43]
Experience Classicsonline

This Virgin Classics disc, recorded in 2003, is now re-released under the prize-winning rubric festooned on its cover – Gramophone and Penguin Guide recommendations, which are as prominent as competition accolades on a bottle of wine. In this case, however, such affirmation is entirely justified because these are sensitive, mature and thoroughly convincing performances.

That said Tetzlaff and Andsnes take a rather refined, elegant approach to Bartók’s sonatas. Note the violinist’s eloquent, supple and light bowing in the Allegro appassionata of the First Sonata. The playing is not as richly suggestive or as coloured as other performances but its rhapsodic milieu is acutely located nonetheless. Similarly the nocturnal centre of the movement is unerringly expressed, finely juxtaposed with the more militant, tonality-shaking episodes that surround it. The refined lambency of the slow movement reinforces such perceptions and with the super-fine balance between instruments this and the driving finale show Tetzlaff and Andsnes at the top of their form. 

The Second Sonata allows the intellectual parameters of the players even greater room for manoeuvre. This is compelling playing, allowing the music’s elasticity and its moments of fugitive impressionism a just equipoise. Furthermore the half glints and deft shadows embodied in the Allegretto finale are brilliantly realized by both men, whose use of dynamic variance is entirely at the music’s service. When we reach Tetzlaff’s performance of the solo sonata we feel in sure technical and stylistic hands. His tone is pure and concentrated, he retains instrumental surety even in the highest positions; the pizzicati in the Presto ring out and whilst Tetzlaff can be astringent he never turns glassy. 

One’s only reservation relates to the particularity of their approach to this repertoire. As long as you appreciate that this is, in string quartet terms, more Juilliard than Végh, then you will not be disappointed. Tetzlaff doesn’t cultivate rusticities of tone, nor rip-snorting timbral breadth. But he is a highly sympathetic explorer of this repertoire who has tightened up and signally improved upon his earlier Bartók performances on disc. Andsnes is a similarly subtle partner, especially good at those moments of introspective intimacy; this is some of the best playing of his that I’ve heard. Together the two men constitute a formidable ensemble, to be ranked alongside Faust and Kupiec (HMN91 1623) as individualists of note in this repertoire. 

Jonathan Woolf



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