This is volume 5 of Renate Eggebrecht’s crusading series of solo violin continues in a wide-ranging survey of some fascinating 20th century repertoire. We’re inevitable going to come across some composers more than once in a series like that, Grazyna Bacewicz’s 1958 Sonata for instance appearing in Volume 2, and some other Caprices in Volume 4, the works on this disc by the way completing Eggebrecht’s survey of Bacewicz’s entire works for solo violin. I reviewed Volume 3 a while ago, and remember having some reservations about the technical standard of the playing – giving Renate Eggebrecht the benefit of the doubt with some aspects of Hindemith’s demanding scores. Unfortunately the opening Moderato or other tricky corners of Prokofiev’s Sonata Op.115 hasn’t given the lie to my worries, and I hear all kinds of little problems of intonation and squeaky troubles which distract rather from the essence of the music.
Serbian composer Ljubica Maric is a new name to me (see review of Chandos disc), and her Sonata Fantasia has a good deal of folk feeling which suits Eggebrecht’s sometimes rather hoarse tone. Another female composer, Grazyna Bacewicz was a significant Polish musician, both as a composer and a violin virtuoso. Her Polish Caprices have a clarity of form and line which point towards a neoclassical approach, though the rugged double-stopping effects also show some folk influences and lighter moods. Her 1941 Sonata for Solo Violin is a veritable tour de force, with highly virtuoso odd-number movements, a second movement Adagio which refers to Bach and a fourth which develops Variazioni over a theme which is angular and pushing the boundaries of tonality. Eduard Tubin’s Suite on Estonian Dance Tunes is a fine piece with overt references to the countryside in movement titles such as Bagpipe, and At the Shepherd’s Fire. Renate Eggebrecht is if anything a little too convincingly rough around the edges, and it’s hard to tell if the quasi Hardanger-fiddle effects are intended or not. Tubin’s compact Sonata for Solo Violin is dramatic and relatively compact single movement which encompasses a massively wide range of moods while maintaining perfect structural integrity.
Both Bacewicz and Edison Denisov’s respective Sonata works are remarkably given their première recordings here. Edison Denisov’s work is the most resolutely modernist in its angular and atonal opening Risoluto, which is followed by a remarkable Lento, filled with tender inflections whose quarter-tone intervals seem to point towards Dali-esque horror and decay. The whole programme is closed with a Presto e pianissimo finale, whose musical fragments are like pieces of torn cloth; flapping loose on a windy day, but trapped in a silent film.
Such a fascinating programme deserves attention, and with a decent enough SACD recording I wish I could recommend it more highly. The more I listen to Renate Eggebrecht’s playing the further I am from being convinced. She has technical prowess, but not enough tonal – and by this I mean in terms of pitch – grounding to give the ear enough security always to be absolutely sure where we are in any particular scale. This is not the case all of the time, but is too frequently evident to be ignored; and notably bothersome in places where the music is so clearly based in tonality. Intervals are too often just-but-not-quite pure, tricky passages managed-but-only-just. Even slower, more dolce moments such as the lyrical opening of the second movement of the Prokofiev Sonata are only ‘sort-of’ there. The violin doesn’t really sing here. The results are, I’m afraid, ultimately really not all that attractive. Renate Eggebrecht deserves every plaudit for her pioneering work, but maybe it’s time to start investing in the propagation of this remarkable repertoire amongst younger talents who can bring it off without the aura of encroaching struggle evidenced by this recital.