Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Distance de fée (1951) [6:22]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Sonata in E (1935) [9:22]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Violin Sonata (1914 rev 1921) [15:59]
Valentin SILVESTROV (b.1937)
Five Pieces for violin and piano (2004) [15:01]
Duo Gazzana (Natascia Gazzana (violin); Raffaella Gazzana (piano))
rec. March 2011, Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano
ECM NEW SERIES 2238 476 4428 [47:17]

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.

Jonathan Woolf

A rather intriguing programme: stylistically, geographically and temporally.