This CD runs the gamut of one-violin-one-cello repertoire, from romantic virtuoso showpieces to modern masterworks by Kodály and Ravel to - why not - an arrangement of John Philip Sousa’s most beloved march. It’s well worth your time because the music is arranged for maximum contrast … and because the two performers are superb.
Arianna Warsaw-Fan and Meta Weiss, both in their twenties, tackle all this music with aplomb. When there are only two performers, the pressure’s on, and they meet all the composers’ demands, dig into the different voices like master ventriloquists, and crucially sound fantastic. Each has the kind of burnished tone you’d expect from concert soloists: no iffy intonation, scratchiness, hesitation or any other ugly sounds - except when Ravel calls for ugly sounds in his scherzo. In the ‘Grand Duo’, Weiss’s harmonics sound as easy as pie.
What about the music? Kodály, Ravel and Halvorsen are mainstays of the duo repertoire, with Halvorsen’s passacaglia worthy of its popularity and served well here. Servais and Léonard, a 19th-century performing duo, are represented by a Grand Duo they wrote together for themselves. The themes are popular English tunes, “God Save the Queen” and “London is out of sorrow”, which happily are also popular American tunes, “My country ’tis of thee” and “Yankee Doodle”. There are also interesting variations on those themes and a whole lot of virtuoso fluff which is as fun to hear as the performers say it’s fun to play. The Sousa arrangement is by violinist Bruce Dukov, and it’s outrageously witty. I started grinning at 0:24.
Although the sound is good - if very, very close - I have to gripe about Sono Luminus’s booklet. The label’s quality control is usually fantastic, but something went terribly wrong with my copy, where three paragraphs are printed twice, work titles and composer pictures are printed next to text describing the previous piece, and the ending is clearly missing. Oops. Oh, and why is it called “Entendre”? This is never explained.
Anyway, this CD isn’t really the thing if you’re looking for a collection of Maurice Ravel’s chamber music, or Kodály’s. It is unquestionably the thing if you’re looking for a fun, brilliantly played album for violin and cello. If so, buy with confidence, and then maybe take a quick sceptical look at the booklet notes.
Chamber music fans with fancy schmancy audio systems should note that
this comes with a free Blu-ray Audio disc of the same program but
I couldn’t compare the two for sound.
P.S. Full disclosure: I attended Rice University at the same time as cellist Meta Weiss, saw her orchestral and chamber playing, and might have attended her recitals, though I don’t think we ever really met.