Duo Sessions

Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 (1914) [23:57]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Duo for Violin and Cello (1925) [15:17]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-22) [19:24]
Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Passacaglia (after Handel) for Violin and Cello (1894) [5:59]
Julia Fischer (violin)
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
rec. Bayerischen Rundfunk Studio 1, Munich, Germany, 23-24 September 2014 DDD
ORFEO C902161A [64:42]

This CD contains what by general consent are the two greatest chamber works for violin and cello of the past century, those by Ravel and Kodály. They have appeared together before, most notably as performed by Nigel Kennedy and Lynn Harrell in their celebrated recording (Warner). That disc also included the “encore” work, Halvorsen’s Passacaglia. What makes this programme special, however, is a piece that I had not heard before, Schulhoff’s Duo. That would not be enough to recommend the CD were the performances not as good as they are. Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott are fully engaged in the music and their teamwork is impeccable.

Fischer and Müller-Schott revel in the Hungarian folk influence apparent in the Kodály work, especially the cellist’s strumming near the end of the work. At the same time the duo projects a certain tonal refinement. Marco Rizzi and Karine Georgian in another account that I reviewed here on Alto are more intense, as are Kennedy and Harrell. For me this music has enough intensity built in, so it can become wearing if more is applied from the outside. That is not to say this duo lacks anything in the way of involvement with the music. They capture every detail and the immediacy of the recording supports their view well.

The Ravel Sonata would seem to benefit even more from this duo’s approach and so it does. They bring out the kaleidoscopic colours of the work as well as I have ever experienced them. They are songful and ardent in the first movement and dynamic and jazzy in the second one where the cellist’s pizzicato really explodes. Müller-Schott enters the Lent third movement with the most discreet vibrato, simply and beautifully. The duo is perfectly poised here and then they let loose in the finale while not shortchanging the dance element. Another account which is impressive in its own more withdrawn manner is that by Chantal Juillet and Truls Mřrk on an all-Ravel disc (Decca), whereas Kennedy/Harrell are more forthright.

What a pleasant surprise to encounter Erwin Schulhoff’s Duo! Schulhoff is becoming better known now as one of the Jewish composers of the generation of European musicians, whose life was tragically cut short in a German concentration camp in 1942. A fellow Czech, he dedicated his composition for violin and cello to Janáček. However, I find a greater resemblance in the Duo to Kodály, especially the folksy second movement labeled Zingaresca with its fiddle playing and Hungarian rhythms. The work is in four movements, the first of which contrasts a rhythmically jagged theme with a slow, quiet one that recalls Ravel in its modal nature. The third movement is a rather melancholy song with pizzicato accompaniment that is quite haunting. The last movement continues this mood at the beginning but soon becomes more agitated and dissonant. This piece leaves a powerful impression and shows enough individuality to make one regret all the more that Schulfhoff never got to reach his full potential. Fischer and Müller-Schott’s incandescent performance should help give the work the exposure it clearly deserves.

Halvorsen’s Passacaglia is a favorite encore of this duo and ends the disc on a lighter note. The CD booklet contains an interview with the artists where they mention that it is often performed by them after the Brahms Double Concerto—and their audience is disappointed when they don’t play it as an encore. My sole criticism of this production is the lack of detailed information in the booklet on the works themselves, but only a long interview where the artists converse about their background as individual musicians and as a duo, demonstrating their admiration and respect for one another. Otherwise, I can heartily recommend this CD for its well-structured and superbly performed programme, and particularly for including the Schulhoff Duo.

Leslie Wright

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