In his notes, Paul Griffiths suggests that whilst these four
works are diverse — indeed they are — they ‘share a sense of
estrangement from the traditions and models to which they so
evidently appeal.’ This is an adroitly convoluted stance, and
not wholly convincing. Indeed elsewhere Griffiths gets even
more Jamesian. Post-facto rationalisations are always dangerous.
I prefer to see the programme simply as a rather intriguing
one, stylistically, geographically and temporally.
Takemitsu’s Distance de fée is an early work lasting
six minutes. Its quietude and concentration evoke Messiaen,
but it’s full of its own embryonic sense of colour and calm
too. From Messiaen in Tokyo we move to Hindemith in the Berlin
of 1935. His almost equally as terse Violin Sonata was premiered
by Stefen Frenkel in Geneva in 1936. And as an aside, I do hope
that some enterprising company will see fit to reissue Frenkel’s
Kurt Weill recordings on Homochord 78s alongside his Rathaus
and Tiessen discs. The Duo Gazzana shows a good sense of rhythmic
impetus here, as well as a fine concern for legato. Their ensemble
is, naturally enough, watertight, and Natascia Gazzana varies
her vibrato speed with intelligence in the Langsam section
of the second of the two movements.
I didn’t know, but Griffiths’ notes relate that Hindemith took
part in the first performance outside Czechoslovakia of Janáček’s
Violin Sonata. Performances of this work have been getting wilder
and wilder of late. Even very good violinists think the way
to play it is to exaggerate every gesture, to bend tone until
it becomes gritty and ugly. I don’t wish to be at all dictatorial
about this, but Czech players, from Alexander Plocek (on 78s
— the first to record it) to Josef Suk, never felt the need
to do this. Fortunately neither does the Duo under discussion.
I much prefer their taut but sensitive reserve to many current
exponents. It reminds me strongly of Suk and Panenka’s performance
on disc. The only time I heard Suk play, which was at the Wigmore
Hall in London, he performed this sonata and played it with
the kind of directness and unselfconsciousness that has made
his own disc a classic. So, the Gazzanas score highly for me.
There’s a good balance, the echo effects in the finale are just
right, characterisation is first class. Natascia Gazzana’s vibrato
is a touch slow in the Ballada and could do with more
colour, but otherwise, it’s a really good performance. And Raffaella
Gazzana’s playing of the difficult piano part is outstanding.
Valentin Silvestrov’s Five Pieces are a very different
affair. Composed in 2004 and dedicated to Gidon Kremer, these
are sensitive, very beautiful miniatures. The loveliest is perhaps
the Barcarole, which is suffused with beguiling beauty.
They’re played with great tenderness.
I must point out that, despite ECM’s typically superb recording
values, the disc lasts only 47 minutes.