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George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
Specter
Violin Sonatina (1945) [14:35]
Violin Concerto, in piano reduction (1946) [41:15]
Waltzes from Specter of the Rose arr. Werner Gebauer (1947) [6:26]
Duo Odéon: Hannah Leland (violin, Aimee Fincher (piano)
rec. 2017, Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, USA
SONO LUMINUS DSL-92222 [61:59]

This intriguing disc charts the friendship between violinist Werner Gebauer and George Antheil in the shape of the two works that Antheil wrote for him; the Violin Sonatina and the Concerto. A photograph reproduced in the booklet shows the young Gebauer, nattily dressed, the stem of a pipe in his mouth, with a protective arm around the solid figure of Antheil. Clearly Gebauer inspired the composer for him to have written two such works in such close proximity.

The 1945 Sonatina is a vividly attractive work. If you’ve only been reared on the Bad Boy of Shakespeare and Co, window climbing and snook-cocking, I’d suggest you recalibrate your musical horizons rather more firmly on Hollywood. There’s a positively Korngoldian opulence to some of Antheil’s writing, the second subject of the opening movement almost ludicrously sweet, whereas some of the faster writing shimmers with vivid memories of his Parisian days. The luscious romanticism of the central movement, gently undulating, shows no let-up and the hoe-down elements of the finale suggest a rollicking cowboy stage, a kind of Robert Russell Bennett meets Prokofiev mélange. If you like avant garde, don’t bother, but if you fancy being intrigued and entertained in equal measure give this a real listen. Yes, the recorded sound is rather dry and the nature of the music warrants more generous cushioning of sound but the Duo Odéon do their considerable bes.

The Concerto is necessarily heard in piano reduction here and dates from the following year. This is valuable because in his 1947 première performance with Antal Doráti, Gebauer altered some elements of the solo line and a number of sizeable cuts were made. Here the original manuscript was consulted and largely followed though it seems that the premiere was recorded and the disc of it was also used as a basis for this piano reduction. In this work Antheil uses rather more of his earlier material – there are some acerbic harmonies and solo discursions – shaped into what one could best describe as the curdled lyricism of the first movement. Here rhythmic instability plays its part but in the long central movement it’s long-breathed lyricism that takes centre-stage, alongside Prokofiev-like mocking writing in the second subject. For the finale Antheil unveils syncopation and Latino verve, as indeed he does some not-so-surreptitious romanticism, in music of delectable caprice and wit. Yes, it’s a relatively long work given the material – which accounts for the premiere cuts – but I think it justifies its length.

The three brief Valses are drawn from film music Antheil wrote for Ben Hecht’s Specter of the Rose and are heard in Gebauer’s arrangements. The most vitalising is the central one, a Poco allegretto that perhaps shows the influence of the Czech violinist Váša Příhoda’s arrangement of Rosenkavalier Waltzes.

Heard without preconceptions, this ‘Hollywood-era’ Antheil has much to offer. The performances are splendidly committed, and a lot of hard work has gone into the preparation of the score of the concerto. Hannah Leland and Aimee Fincher can be warmly commended on their exploration.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 




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