Joseph ACHRON (1886–1943) Complete Suites for violin and piano
Full contents listed at end of review
Hagai Shaham (violin)
Arnon Erez (piano)
rec. Jerusalem Music Center, Israel, February 1996 and March 2009.
HYPERION CDA67841 [78:46 + 79:50]
Joseph Achron was born in a part of Russia which is now Lithuania, but moved with his family to Warsaw at an early age where his musical talents flourished. A prodigious violinist, he studied with Leopold Auer at the St Petersburg Academy, bringing him into the same stable as Heifetz, who became his good friend and champion. Achron’s solo performing career was a glittering one, but he started composing from a very young age. Schoenberg gave him the major compliment of describing him as ‘one of the most underestimated of modern composers’.
Underestimated and indeed, as good as forgotten, it was Hagai Shaham who uncovered Achron’s unpublished compositions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the 1990s. Since then Elmar Oliveira and Ingolf Turban have made Achron recordings. The first CD of this collection aside from the klezmer-weighted Stempenyu Suite was originally released on the Biddulph label, the results being widely acclaimed at the time. This Hyperion collection builds on the foundation of these shorter pieces, and brings us all of the multi-movement Suites in consistently vibrant sound.

Achron’s violin wizardry is clearly apparent from spectacular passages such as the closing sections of the Hebrew Dance Op. 35/2 and the salon splendour of Souvenir de Varsovie Op. 14, but the far greater impression from CD 1 is of music with great charm and at times remarkable expressive power. His lyrical gift is apparent all over the place, with the violin very much a singing voice which laments and laughs. Hagai Shaham’s superb playing drips with all of the emotional directness the best of Jewish music can deliver. Take a tune like the first of the Zwei Stimmungen Op. 36 – simple and elegant, with a spring in its step through the syncopations of the accompaniment, this is typical of a set of pieces which give increasing rewards the more you become acquainted with their little hooks and secret corners.
The three numbered Suites from 1906-7 show Achron’s swift stylistic development, and are representative of his diversity of musical interests. The first, ‘en style ancien’, roughly follows Baroque traditions in terms of key structure and, after the passions of the first CD is quite surprising in its relatively abstract but confident and deft exploration of a variety of stylistic elements from Classical and Romantic repertoire. The final Gigue is guaranteed to raise a smile. The Suite No. 2 is a more stylistically advanced set of character pieces, with a more playful lightness of touch in the Menuet and Marionettes, and deeper emotional impact in the sustained and dramatic Intermezzo. The Quatre Tableaux fantastiques or Suite No. 3 is different again, moving in the worlds of impressionism considered modern for the period. The third movement, Largo e fantastico is particularly impressive, a powerful arch with some remarkable harmonies over a bass pedal tone which lasts the entire duration of the piece. The Suite bizarre takes on some of the avant-garde spirit of Stravinsky and Bartók in its rhythmic asymmetries, while maintaining an anchor in aspects of more familiar dance idioms in Quasi valse, and remaining rooted in accessible tonality and lyrical melodic lines.

The Children’s Suite was originally written for piano solo, but its distinctively melodic character lends itself well to arrangement. Far from childish, the music is more descriptive of themes related to childhood than intended for consumption by the young. The violin is turned into a very agile set of Birdies and revolves convincingly as a Top. The variety of moods make for a set of pieces with plenty of sophistication and magic.
This is a surprising and tremendously widely-ranging programme of music on two generously filled CDs. Achron’s music is by no means exclusively based on Jewish idioms, and as the later Suites show, he was well aware of the advances made by Debussy, Ravel and others. The brilliance of the violin writing is incidental, with the quality of the music very much to the fore. The brilliance of Hagai Shaham’s playing is a major draw, from folk-music derived vocalisation to Parisian wit and savoir-faire. Arnon Erez’s piano accompaniment reflects and supports with its own sonority and powerful expressive palette.
Dominy Clements
Consistently vibrant violin feast.

Full contents list

CD 1
Hebrew Melody Op. 33 [5:48]
Two Hebrew Pieces Op. 35
Hebrew Dance [6:07]
Hebrew Lullaby [3:03]
Eli Zion [6:20]
Prelude Op. 13 [3:40]
Souvenir de Varsovie Op. 14 [3:29]
Coquetterie Op. 15 [2:22]
Serenade Op. 17 [2:50]
Les sylphides Op. 18 [3:10]
Berceuse Op. 20 [3:46]
Dance Improvisation Op. 37 [3:08]
Scher Op. 42 [2:00]
Märchen Op. 46 [3:43]
Liebeswidmung Op. 51 [2:16]
Canzonetta Op. 52 No. 2 [2:37]
Zwei Stimmungen Op. 32
No. 1 in D minor [2:04]
No. 2 in B minor [3:45]
Zwei Stimmungen Op. 36
No. 1 in G minor [3:38]
No. 2 in B major [1:47]
Two Pastels Op. 44
No. 1 in A minor [3:58]
No. 2 in E minor [2:37]
Stempenyu Suite
Stempenyu plays [2:07]
Scher [1:41]
Freilachs [2:48]

CD 2
Suite No. 1 'en style ancien' Op. 21
Prélude - Tempo giusto [2:44]
Gavotte - Allegro moderato [3:18]
Sicilienne - Andantino [3:18]
Fughetta - Non troppo allegro [1:21]
Gigue - Allegro comodo [2:46]

Suite No. 2 Op. 22
En passant - Vivo e scorrendo [1:49]
Menuet - Allegretto aperto – Trio Un poco meno mosso [4:13]
Moulin - Vivace e gajamente assai [1:25]
Intermezzo - Cantabile e molto dramatico [4:45]
Marionettes - Allegro molto e scherzando [3:19]
Quatre Tableaux fantastiques 'Suite No. 3' Op. 23
Andantino espressivo [1:39]
Allegretto con grazia ma un pochiNo. malinconico [3:34]
Largo e fantastico [4:14]
Allegro con agilità [6:04]
Suite bizarre 'Cycles des rythmes, Suite No. 4 Op. 41
Etincelles - Allegro molto [1:07]
Quasi valse - Allegro [2:33]
Grâce - Allegretto [1:46]
Terrasses du palais - Calmato [2:58]
Grimaces - Moderato [1:45]
Galanterie - Andantino [1:51]
Pastorale - Allegro vivo [1:28]
Moment dramatique - Adagio e molto espressivo [3:09]
Marche grotesque - Allegro giocoso [2:03]
Children’s Suite arr. Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987)
Jumping with tongue out (Op. 57 No. 2) [1:17]
Sleep, my puppy (Op. 57 No. 11) [0:54]
Birdies (Op. 57 No. 12) [1:43]
March of Toys (Op. 57 No. 10) [1:19]
Mamma, tell a fairy tale (Op. 57 No. 4) [1:26]
The TOp. (Op. 57 No. 8) [1:02]
The Caravan (Op. 57 No. 18) [1:15]
Parade with presents (Op. 57 No. 20) [1:41]
Pensée de Leopold Auer [2:24]
La romanesca [3:38]