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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in E minor, K.304 (1778) [11:53]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.100 (1886) [18:43]
Ondřej KUKAL (b.1964)
‘The Late Hour’ (Afterstund) for solo violin, Op.30 [5:46]
Luboš FIŠER (1935-1999)
‘The Hands’, for violin and piano (1959) [11:29]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Violin Sonata No.3 (1944) [26:48]
Leoš Čepický (violin)
Ivan Klánský (piano)
rec. September 2013, Martinů Hall, Academy of Performing Arts, Prague
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6265 [74:31]

Leoš Čepický is best known for his long and illustrious membership of the Wihan Quartet, but he also a pedagogue, the head of Strings at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. His sonata partner is Ivan Klánský, pianist of the Guarneri Piano Trio and a frequent performer on disc, where his admirable qualities have been felt for many years. Together they have put together a recital that begins conventionally enough – in years gone by Mozart followed by Brahms often meant ‘followed by Franck’ – but here it soon brings novelty and considerable interest in the form of a trio of Czech works.
 
Mozart’s E minor sonata is played with bracing control, neither of the two movements being subjected to any outré devices. The recording was made at the Martinů Hall in Prague, a venue very familiar to both musicians and they, and their engineers, have judged the balance between the two instruments very well. In fact it’s a balanced reading altogether, neither spruce nor sentimental, and not showing overmuch sympathy for so-called period performance practice. In the Brahms fervour is conveyed through discipline. The playing is communicative and not at all small-scaled at good and unexceptionable tempi. Some expressive finger position changes in the central movement personalise the playing to a welcome degree, and throughout the performance is convincingly paced and lyrically expressive.
 
For record collectors, if I can invoke the phrase, the presence of Martinů’s greatest violin sonata – perhaps, indeed, the greatest Czech violin sonata of the twentieth-century, and I include the Janáček in that - is a particularly notable event, especially when performed by so distinguished a duo as this. Most of the best Czech performances on disc share one uncanny thing in common: their tempi are almost identical. It’s as if native duos have an inbuilt beacon by which they are guided in this work. And by ‘almost identical’ I do mean precisely that. The main competition is with Supraphon’s complete violin and piano edition (volume 2) played by Bohuslav Matoušek and Petr Adamec [SU 341-2 132], with Josef Suk’s 1987 recordings with Josef Hála, and also Ivan Ženatý and Milan Langer on Panton 810965-2. I should add that the last two, as well, offer all-Martinů discs more relevant to the specialist. In short Čepický plays with a silver-toned intensity most comparable to Matoušek’s, and both men rather lack Suk’s warmer lyric impulses, and fiery energy. The compensations are structural integrity and a total grasp of the composer’s intensions. One finds also that Čepický and Klánský play the finale, with its ravishing long-breathed melody, with great awareness if not, again, quite Suk’s veiled beauty.
 
One should on no account overlook the other two items. Kukal’s The Late Hour is for solo violin, a marriage of quasi-improvisatory dialogues and reflective refinement, inspired by Edvard Munch’s painting Afterstund. It has been re-written and enlarged after its first performance. The left hand pizzicati over tremolo makes their mark as does its more virtuosic demands. Luboš Fišer’s 1959 sonata was originally meant to be called Crux, an allegorical description of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, but the topic and title were hardly welcomed by the hard-line authorities so it became The Hands. It was written during Fišer’s Musica Nova period when he wrote the still-startling 15 Prints after Dürer’s Apocalypse and The Hands shares its abrasive sonic vehemence. But after the bloodthirsty and often tortured early passages, the resigned pizzicati and piano tolling lead to a strangely awe-inspiring radiance. It’s memorably played and, I think, something of a masterpiece.
 
If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate. Take the Mozart and Brahms as evidence of this duo’s laudable credentials in the central repertoire.
 
Jonathan Woolf