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Sonata no.1, for violin and piano (1993-94) [24:43]
Sonata no.2, for violin and piano (1996) [16:47]
Sonata, for solo violin (2002) [13:59]
Sonata no.3, for violin and piano (2006) [20:51]
Mikk Murdvee (violin)
Sten Lassmann (piano)
rec. Chamber Hall, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Tallinn,
23-25 July 2007; Studio 1, Estonian National Radio, Tallinn, 6-7
June 2006 (solo Sonata). DDD.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0140 [76:28]
Toccata Classics very admirably bill themselves as "the label dedicated to producing recordings of the vast amount of top-notch classical music that the concert halls and major record companies are ignoring." Factoring in the efforts of Naxos, Brilliant Classics, CPO, Chandos and several other outstanding independent labels, it is by now an indisputable fact that almost all the best music - composers and musicians alike - is to be found on these independents. On CDs, indeed, like this one, which continues Toccata's active, with luck never-ending, commitment to 20th and 21st century Baltic music: previous revelations have included the music of Peteris Plakidis (review), Vytautas Bacevicius (review, review), Ester Mägi (review), Veljo Tormis (review) and most recently two Heino Eller monographs (review, TOCC 0132).
Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem was still in his early teens when he wrote the first two Sonatas, and even these were preceded by six sonatinas for solo violin! Allowing the Sonatas to be recorded here for posterity, Kerem clearly has confidence that they amount to more than juvenilia, and he is right. The brooding, affecting, slightly sinister qualities of the First Sonata point to a composer mature beyond his years. There may be a certain cautiousness of ideas that suggests youth - the quasi-ostinato nature of much of the piano writing or the disarming purity of the postlude after the Prokofievian scherzo, for example - but many older, sager heads would surely be happy to call this their own. The same goes for the more concise Second, written only two years later, again "directly from my heart", as Kerem puts it. In some ways the Second is a more mature re-write of the First, especially in the way the throbbing, motoric second-movement presto is followed by a Pärt-like contemplative grave. Already, though, Kerem is exhibiting substantial emotional depth in grippingly articulated writing.
Estonian violinist Mikk Murdvee and pianist Sten Lassmann both went to school with Kerem, and a lasting friendship has seen Murdvee give the premiere as dedicatee of many of Kerem's works, including the more recent Third Sonata and the Sonata for solo violin. In the former Lassmann was co-dedicatee - the pianist gets a sizeable share of the limelight of this dramatic work, which Kerem still rates as one of his best. That is a view likely to be shared by the discerning listener, who is plunged - yet again, but this time immediately - into a tumultuous scherzo that is once more strongly reminiscent of Prokofiev in its driving rhythms and tireless stream of dissonance. Yet as with Prokofiev, Kerem's Sonata is an impressively structured tonal work full of thrilling ideas that evoke a haunted, seething world of ominous tension and striking virtuosity. By now a trademark, the meditative final movement, this time intriguingly titled 'Polyphony', brings the work to a supremely expressive, and ultimately ambiguously sudden end.
Murdvee and Lassmann are excellent throughout, sophisticatedly communicative of phrase and tone and compelling champions for Kerem's music. Murdvee makes the greater impression, however, due mainly to his account of Kerem's Solo Sonata, in which the composer gives full expression to the special insights gleaned from his other calling as a violinist, in a work written for Murdvee to play alongside no less a piece than Eugène Ysaÿe's Solo Sonata no.6!
Sound quality is first-rate. The English-only notes are by Kerem himself, well written, informative and cordial. These are premiere recordings, and mark Kerem's debut as a composer on CD. The first of many, surely.
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