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The Sound of the Twenties
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor (1920) [29:45]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G major (1927) [16:58]
Jacques-Alphonse De ZEEGANT (b.1955)
Duo for violin and piano: Souvenirs d’Espagne (2007) [3:51]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, ‘Dans le caractère populaire roumain’ Op.25 (1926) [27:33]
Stefan Tarara (violin)
Lora Vakova-Tarara (piano)
rec. March 2015, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal

Let’s overlook the fact that the promotional material for this disc states that Jacques-Alphons de Zeegant was writing in the 1920s – he was born in 1955 - as it’s not included in the disc and the booklet notes themselves are more on the ball. This celebration of the Golden 1920s – a decade that absorbed the War and the emergence of Dance music and Jazz from America – focuses on Ravel, Enescu and Bloch. This is the first collaboration on disc by the German violinist Stefan Tarara and his Bulgarian wife Lora-Evelin Vakova-Tarara.

Enescu’s Third Sonata has always occupied an important place on what I suppose one would call the fringes of the central repertoire. It’s not lacked for recordings, and there have been many more of late. The Tarara duo take a slightly horizontal approach to the first two movements, proving less inclined to folkloric effusiveness than other pairings, not least in the opening movement. In the Andante – marked sostenuto e misteroso – I miss the full potential of the birdsongs and cimbalom impressions that can be brought out more evocatively at faster tempi. They are fine instrumentalists but they may have misjudged the best tempi, and series of tempo interrelations necessary to put across these elements. The Menuhins in their famous old 78rpm set did this rather better, and Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan in their complete violin twofer (Hänssler Classic 98.035) did it better still. Nevertheless this is a pretty well-scaled performance, not lacking for requisite gypsy playing in the finale, which is rightly taken con brio – though few have ever been as con brio as the Menuhins in this movement.

Bloch’s large-scaled 1920 A minor Sonata is a gutsy work which also contains folkloric material, especially in the finale. It requires powerful interpretative qualities and this duo clearly has a single viewpoint. I do feel they are too rhapsodic in the opening movement. It’s not necessary to replicate Heifetz’s tensile legerdemain here – he takes two minutes off the Tarara duo’s timing in the first movement alone and another minute in the finale – but even a degree more drama and inflection works better. Elsa Grether and Ferenc Vizi, not a well-known duo, have always impressed me here for their less charismatic, slightly less technically assured but always highly musical sense of flux within a relatively fast basic pulse (Fuga Libera FUG711).

Much better all-round tempi are taken for the Ravel. In proportion this reminds me of Grumiaux’s recording with Hajdu, albeit some of the stylisation is a bit downplayed by the Tarara pairing. I understand the reason for not over-emphasising the pizzicati in the Blues movement – some players make an utter meal of it, ruining the effect entirely – but they could have been slightly less sanguine. Happily, characterisation intensifies as the movement develops.

De Zeegant is a Belgian composer whose brief Duo is devoted to the nostalgic pleasures of the Spanish landscape. The result is a Franco-Iberian watercolour of some charm.

The recording and booklet notes are alike good. The programme is certainly challenging and in many ways rewarding, though they are certainly not the first duo on disc to have looked at the violin sonata in the 1920s. They have something to say, and are first-class instrumentalists, though as yet sometimes prone to rhapsodise a little too much.

Jonathan Woolf



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