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Works for String Duo
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890 – 1959)

Three Madrigals (1947) [15:29]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)

Duo in B flat, K424 (1783) [20:14]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 – 1992)

Otoño Porteño (arr. C E Langheim) (1962) [5:37]
Invierno Porteño (1962) [6:42]
Hagit Halaf (violin); Christoph Emmanuel Langheim (viola)
rec. 10-11 July 2006, Jerusalem Music Centre Mishkenot She’ananim, Israel. DDD
ROMÉO RECORDS 7261 [48:02]
Experience Classicsonline

 
 

This is, in general, a most enjoyable disk. Nothing profound in the music, but it’s played with such enjoyment and style that it is irresistible.

In the 1930s, Martinů heard an English group singing madrigals. He loved the free flowing polyphony and independent lines of the music. Immediately he set to work writing madrigals, some for chorus and four sets for (different) instrumental combinations. This is one of the final works in this style.

Martinů’s style, after the jazz-inspired works of his early Paris years, settled into an easy-going neo-classicism, and the outer pieces of these Three Madrigals are full of that delightful chatter: two friends who have lots to say and fall over each others speech so urgent is their need to get their thoughts heard. It’s great fun, and makes most enjoyable listening, but is, I imagine, difficult for the players. The middle movement is full of the night, long tremolandos fill the music and even invade the tunes from time to time. There’s much more fioritura here, as the tempo and material allows for it, than in the other movements. It’s very beautiful, and very beautifully played.

Because of Martinů’s neo-classical leanings, the music of Mozart follows easily and there isn’t the shock which sometimes comes when one aurally steps back 150 years. There is a story that we owe the existence of Mozart’s two Duos – this one and another K423 – to pure chance. The story goes that Michael Haydn, due to illness, couldn’t finish six duets commissioned by the Archbishop of Salzburg so Mozart stepped in and completed the set with his two works. Despite Mozart being able to duplicate Haydn’s style these pieces are pure Mozart. It’s hard to believe the Archbishop was fooled by the subterfuge – but perhaps he was. The first movement is an amiable discourse between the instruments, full of musical jokes, the slow movement, however, is very serious; perhaps here the dialogue is philosophical. It’s back to high spirits for the final movement. It’s a superbly proportioned work, well laid out fore the instruments and not a note is wasted.

Astor Piazzolla comes as a shock after this. Because of his recordings and touring, Piazzolla’s special brand of Tango Nuevo is now known the world over and many of his works have been arranged for many different instrumental combinations – even full orchestra. I even know a busker who regularly plays a solo violin version of Adios Nonino. With the quintet or sextet, which he led playing the bandoneon, the tangos were the sexy works they so obviously are, helped by Piazzolla’s suggestive movements as he played. However, once you remove that real spirit of the tango – and the bandoneon, guitar, violin and bass – the tunes survive. It would be impossible for them not to as Piazzolla had a strong melodic vein in his body - but that’s all you’re left with: the tune. These two arrangements, good though they are, are pleasant but they really have nothing whatsoever to do with tango, and the music really doesn’t ignite. The, almost, dirty passion is missing. Of the two, Invierno Porteño (Winter in Buenos Aires) comes off best, with its sultry phrases and laid-back melodic line. But it’s always good to hear these marvellous tunes and they make a pleasant, if not wholly satisfactory, end to a splendid disk.

The booklet has brief, but clear notes and the disk is attractively packaged.

Bob Briggs

 


 




 


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