Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1914-15, rev. 1921) [17:52]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Mythes (1915) [19:36]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Subito (1992) [4:55]
Partita (1984) [16:23]
Isabelle Faust (violin); Ewa Kupiec (piano)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany, August 2002
HARMONIA MUNDI HMA 1951793 [59:21]
The programme here nearly duplicates one on Naxos by violinist Ariadne Daskalakis and pianist Miri Yampolsky that Dominy Clements reviewed for this website. I have not heard that recording, but the reissue of this one, originally from 2003, on Harmonia Mundi’s budget Musique d’abord series is most welcome.
The Janáček Sonata has received a large number of recordings and is now an established part of the violin/piano repertoire. Isabelle Faust and Ewa Kupiec play the work with real passion and commitment. Yet they display well the tenderness of the second movement, Ballada, and the introspective parts of the final Adagio. I compared their interpretation with several others in my collection and they come up very well in the comparison. Among those are the ones by Saschko Gawriloff/Gilead Mishory (Tudor) and Pierre Amoyal/Mikhaïl Rudy (EMI). I have always thought the live recording by the Janáček authorities, Josef Suk and Rudolf Firkušný (Supraphon) was the best of the lot. However, in comparing it to the others I no longer find it so. Their recording itself leaves something to be desired, taken as it is from a concert, with the important piano part often submerged and unclear. Furthermore, while their generally faster tempos add to the excitement of the performance, they miss out on the poetry that is in the work. More damaging, they either fail to take the first movement repeat or make cuts in the movement. Their timing for that Con moto movement is 3:21 vs. Faust/Kupiec (5:11), Gawriloff/Mishory (5:08), and Amoyal/Rudy (5:45). The sonata is short enough without leaving out anything. I have no trouble now placing Faust/Kupiec at or near the top of my favorites. The only slight cavil is that the piano theme at the beginning of the third movement Allegretto is not detached enough; other recordings make it sound almost staccato.
I have no reservations, whatsoever, about the Szymanowski Mythes. How wonderfully evocative they are! Szymanowski composed them around the same time as his piano works, Masques and Métopes, but I find them much more approachable than the solo piano pieces. The influences of Scriabin and especially Ravel are apparent in all three Mythes and the writing for violin and piano is masterly, the former at the same level as that of the concertos. The first Myth, La fontaine d’Aréthuse is rhythmic and quite virtuosic, The duo give a stunning performance of real clarity, without short-changing the impressionism. The second Myth, Narcisse, is reminiscent of a Ravelian habanera and is haunting in its beauty before building to quite a climax and then becoming wistful. The third Myth, Dryades et Pan, on the other hand, shows the more humorous side of the composer. It also puts the violinist through her paces with its insect-like buzzing, trills, and sul ponticello bowing. Faust and Kupiec give the full measure of this music and theirs is a performance to treasure.
The Lutosławski selections are particularly appropriate, this being the composer’s centenary. I knew the Partita before only in its version with orchestra that Lutosławski made for Anne-Sophie Mutter. The original version for violin and piano presented here is in no way inferior to the later scoring. It sounds merely like a different work. One can appreciate the intricacy of the piano part and jewel-like character of the piece when only two instruments are playing. At any rate it is most enjoyable, with its allusions to baroque models (hence its title), but it is typical of the composer’s late period including the great Third Symphony. The Partita consists of three main movements, Allegro giusto,Largo, and Presto, interspersed with two short “Ad libitum” sections employing the composer’s famous aleatoric method. A greater surprise for me still was the short Subito that Lutosławski composed near the end of his life. A real gem, it has much packed into its barely five minutes. Subito has lively and rhythmic sections contrasting with more lyrical ones. It includes a “false ending” and then stops with a bang. Lutosławski had a sense of humor to the end of his productive life! It is to be hoped that this short work takes its place regularly in the concert hall. Lutosławski deserves as much attention as the other centenary celebrants this year, and the recording industry with its Chandos series and Salonen’s efforts on Sony appears to be doing him justice. Faust and Kupiec in this reissue are doing their part, too. The recorded balance here, as throughout the programme, leaves nothing to be desired.
Harmonia Mundi has enclosed the disc in a cardboard foldout, and the CD itself is made to look like an LP with a black surface and visible lines for the tracks on the top side. There are brief notes on the works and a direction to the company’s website for more detailed information on the programme. I checked the website but did not find any such information. This is a shame, because the notes with the CD do not even mention the Subito. Never mind. The disc itself is worth every penny.

Leslie Wright

A most welcome reissue of twentieth-century works for violin and piano.

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