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Essentials – works for solo violin
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz 117 (1944) [25:04]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [28:51]
Eugčne YSAźE (1858-1931)
Six Sonatas for solo violin Op. 27 (1923): No. 3 (‘Ballade’) in D minor [6:48]
Nikos SKALKOTTAS (1904-1949)
Sonata for solo violin (1925) [12:41]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice Op.6 (1911) [4:54]
Herwig Zack (violin)
rec. Kammermusiksaal der Hochschule,  fur Müsik, Würzburg, 2007-08
AVIE AV2155 [78:45]

Experience Classicsonline


The disc’s title, ‘Essentials’, refers both to the self-limiting four strings of the solo violin and also to the cornerstone quality of the repertoire, avers Herwig Zack in his booklet notes. I think he is being rather over-generous to some of his colleagues when he says that the Bach and Ysa˙e and Bartók works occupy every violinist, as they do him. Bach, yes, but many shy away from the Bartók and you’ll encounter a swathe of fiddle players who never essay any of the Ysa˙e sonatas in concert. Technique may be getting better, so they say, but these works still retain their power to dismay.

Zack has organised a challenging programme, then, one that deals with Essentials. It also deals, so far as I can see, with inter-relations; the Bach is the canonic centre from which derives the Ysa˙e, itself a work of homage and the Skalkottas owes much to baroque procedure as well; Kreisler’s delicious Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice was dedicated to Ysa˙e. The Bartók is probably the most formidable solo violin work of the twentieth century. Another element is that of recitative, which permeates some of the choices of music – the Kreisler explicitly, the Ysa˙e in its form.

The Third Ysa˙e sonata is dedicated to Enescu and is the shortest of the six, though in many ways the most harmonically exploratory. This recording shares with its companion ones – though less so the Bach; the recordings were all made on different dates so far as I can tell – a very up-front and visceral quality. The abrasive immediacy adds a tactile, tensile quality to this sonata, a resinous terseness which some may welcome, others dislike. It lends the performance in any case a very much more extrovert character. Dynamics are vertiginous and there’s a sudden plosive quality to the playing. This extrovert, muscular and no-hold-barred reading is very different to, say, Oscar Shumsky’s linearity of expression (Nimbus NI1735 – a three CD Shumsky set).

Skalkottas’s links with Bachian procedure are a measure of this early work, one ironically almost contemporaneous with Ysa˙e’s more forward-looking sonata. Again for a more equable and balanced aural ride you might prefer Georgios Demertzis’s BIS recording (BIS CD1024). I tend to find the Greek player deals better with the light and shade of the sonata as well, vesting its cat-and-mouse passages with just a bit more subtlety, an impression heightened of course by the recording. It’s also the case that Zach’s vibrato can become oppressive in this hothouse recording acoustic, Demetrius’s slimmer tonal resources being capable of greater variations of colour. That said, for those who like the powerful declamatory style evinced by Zach this is the way to do it. Again, his Kreisler receives a strongly personalised reading. The restless, rather cagey approach certainly animates things splendidly but one may find, as I do, that the approach and the recording dampen the lightness and wit that others – Shumsky prominently – bring to it, especially the Presto finale (Nimbus NI2529-32, a four CD all-Kreisler box).

The recording is less of a problem with the intelligently phrased Bach Partita, in which Zach plays the Chaconne at a fine tempo and with sure architectural goals met. The Sarabanda is quite measured and reserved. And the Bartók receives a characteristically rugged and rough-hewn reading that brings out the tensile Bachian aspects with bold, abrasive brush strokes. There are plenty of emotive expressive devices here, and playing that keeps one listening throughout.

An excellent, revealing programme then, chosen with intelligence and a more than worthy successor to Zack’s Catoire Avie disc. The violin has been recorded too close though, which means that an element of aural weariness can set in and this, combined with Zach’s occasionally militant abrasion, certainly makes for galvanic listening. Still, it’s not all about mellifluousness and if you can deal with the aural questions you will find this a pungent recital, dashingly delivered.

Jonathan Woolf  


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