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Fartein VALEN (1887-1952)
Sonata for Violin and Piano Op.3 (1915/22) [18:16]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Duo Concertant (1931/2) [16:31]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Partita (1984) [16:43]
Gunnar Flagstad (piano)
Bård Monsen (violin)
rec. January 2016, Sofienberg Church, Norway
2L 2L237 SACD & Blu-Ray [53:00]

This recital might well be regarded as in danger of falling into esoteric territory. The three works here are not generally well known although the Stravinsky has been recorded by Itzhak Perlman. Add to this that the set is very expensive, around £22. It consists of an SACD/CD compatible disc and a Blu-Ray in 2.0 LPCM Stereo, 5:1 DTS-HD (in which format I heard the performances), Dolby Atmos and 9.1 Aura 3-D. Many of these formats can only be appreciated by a few privileged audiophiles. The recording is very life-like and captures the instruments superbly.

The Norwegian composer Valen was a name to new me although some recordings of his compositions have been reviewed here. Based on this early piece I shall certainly explore others. There is a fascinating Valen article in Mark Morris's "Guide to Twentieth Century Composers" appearing in the section on Norway. The Sonata, begun in 1915 and completed seven years later, is a fine piece. He had been studying Bach although the general tone is very much in the Romantic style. The first movement is lyrical and languid with the second movement comprising variations leading to a crescendo. I enjoyed it considerably and thought the playing very good. It's definitely not difficult listening. This is a discovery I will want to return to.

When we come to Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant we reach slightly more familiar territory. There have been recordings going back to Szigeti. Lewis Foreman thought highly of Lydia Mordkovitch's reading on Chandos. My comparison is in a recital given in 1976 by Itzhak Perlman (EMI Classics now Warners). I have it in a big set of all Perlman's Warner recordings. Duo Concertant was written about the time of the Violin Concerto and according to 2L's excellent and extensive notes, was inspired by Virgil’s Georgics. There are five short movements. These have a lyrical- pastoral feel and are slightly spiky and humorous; try the fourth movement. It's all perfectly accessible unless you are averse to twentieth century chamber music. I love Perlman’s soulful rendition and would recommend his version; it is available as a single disc with other works by Stravinsky — cost should be under £10. Comparing an old “Classic” and a newcomer can be disadvantageous to the latter. In my view this is just the case here. Bård Monsen is undoubtedly a proficient violinist but he hasn’t the depth of feeling that Perlman has for this work; nor for that matter does he have quite the same empathy with the pianist. In Perlman’s case this is the renowned Bruno Canino. I thought that the 2L duo were faster than the older pair but this is not the case. In addition, I prefer the re-mastered analogue sound of the 1976 recording despite the Blu-Ray's sophistication. That said, theirs is certainly a very good performance and I would love to hear Flagstad and Monsen live.

The third piece is by the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski whom I was lucky enough to see conduct two of his compositions, including the Cello Concerto at my first Prom in 1991. The Partita was composed in 1984 for Pinchas Zuckerman and Marc Neikrug and subsequently orchestrated for Anne-Sophie Mutter. As the title suggests, the composer harks back, at times, to Bach particularly in the startling Gigue of the first movement. Dominy Clements in his review of Cuckson/McMillen in this piece, apart from saying how fine a work this is, refers to the fact that Lutosławski always retained a Polish earthiness in his works. I was taken aback by the emotional power of this piece and felt it very melodic and approachable. There have been at least half a dozen CDs that have included this work and there are more than ten versions on Naxos Music Library. Without resorting to hyperbole, I’d rate this as one of the finest pieces of late-twentieth century chamber music. In this work, I felt the two performers were totally at one with the music; so much so that I played it again immediately, something I wish might happen at a chamber concert with a new piece.

This is a fine collection of three very rewarding works and each definitely deserves wider currency. As I mentioned at the beginning this is a very expensive set and surely will not be purchased unless one has Blu-Ray. The standard of packaging, notes and pictures are first class. Clearly one is dealing with a quality product. This will appeal to audiophiles and lovers of modern chamber music prepared to spend over £20 for 53 minutes of real quality and stimulation. Appealing, particularly for the Lutosławski.
David R Dunsmore



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