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The Soul of Lady Harmsworth
Kristóf Baráti (violin)
Gábor Farkas (piano)
rec. February 2015, Hungaroton Studios, Budapest
HUNGAROTON HCD32760 [70:28]

A cursory look at this programme might imply facile encore gymnastics. There is, however, much more going on. Firstly, the recital is certainly virtuoso-plus in places but it also includes many chances for personalised characterisation; second, the disc’s conceit is the violin played, the Lady Harmsworth Strad, loaned by the Stradivarius Society of Chicago; and third, there’s the violinist himself, the Hungarian player Kristóf Baráti.

To take the second point first. I’m not desperately fixated on discs that swank about this or that named instrument. It’s a level of fetishisation that I’ve never quite understood. But if you’re keen to hear the obviously richly upholstered tone of the Lady Harmsworth, here’s your chance. As for the programming, it may be largely rather old hat, but the playing is unstintingly marvelous. Sarasate’s Romanza Anadaluza has plenty of colour and vibrancy, the dignified and sonorous opening of Malagueńa soon admitting those dynamic pizzicati that are played so well that they reveal the violinist to be a master of his craft. His dexterity is fully supported by a real phrasal narrative – no mere episodic parade of panache, but real musical story-telling at the highest level. There’s energy and - crucially - wit in Zapateado with pinpoint intonation even in the most treacherous of passages.

The range of colour and dynamics that Baráti evokes in Wieniawski’s evergreen - though seemingly not played as often as it was - Légende is as impressive as his elegant control of vibrato and rich, balanced chording. When faced by the pyrotechnical challenges of Ernst’s variations on The Last Rose of Summer he responds not via dizzying speed but through prodigious technical control. Similarly, all the voicings of the same composer’s Grand Caprice - the Erlkönig variations in other words - are very distinctly characterised and properly maintained, a true tour de force of violin mastery. Sensitive phrasing marks out the approach to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher though there’s just a touch of abrasion at moments – which might be a recording phenomenon. One thing I’ve not thus far noted is the contribution of Gábor Farkas, who plays a vital role in the success of this project; he’s no hanger-back and his crisp, propulsive playing hits the mark time after time, not least in his playing of the stormy Scherzo of this triptych.

Whilst other players might overplay their hands, however bountiful, the Hungarian violinist never tries too hard. The sentiment and charm of the Mélodie are beautifully realised. Equally persuasive is Paganini’s Cantabile, and the duo end their recital with some coruscating playing in the Mose-Fantasia.

Have I mentioned that this is a tremendous recital?

Jonathan Woolf

Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Malagueńa, op.21 (pub 1878-82) [4:36]
Romanza andaluza, op.22 (pub 1878-82) [4:52]
Zapateado, op.23 (pub 1878-82) [3:06]
Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1814-1865)
Polyphonic Etude no.6 'The Last Rose of Summer' [9:04]
Grand Caprice sur Le Roi des Aulnes de F Schubert, op.26 (1854) [4:17]
Nicolo PAGANINI (1762-1840)
Cantabile in D major, op.17, MS109 (1835) [3:52]
Mose-Fantasia [7:13]
Moto perpetuo, op.11, MS72 [3:52]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Souvenir d'un lieu cher, op.42 (1878) [16:07]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Légende in G minor, op.17 (c. 1860) [7:39]
Scherzo tarantelle, op.16 (1856) [4:38]


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