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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Violin Sonata (1942/43, rev. 1949) [17.16]
Léo DELIBES (1836-91)
Waltz from Coppélia (1870, arr. solo piano, Ernst Dohnányi, 1925) [4.57]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Sonata No. 2 (1922) [20.27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane (1924) [10.09]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
Polina Leschenko (piano)
rec. 2017, MC2, Maison de la Culture de Grenoble, France
ALPHA 387 [52.54]

On Alpha Classics the duo of Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko performs a recital of works for violin and piano by four contemporary twentieth-century European composers Bartók, Poulenc, Ravel and Dohnányi. The press release accompanying this album titled ‘Deux’ highlights the association between Budapest born violinist Jelly d’Arányi (1893–1966), as a muse to Bartók and Ravel, who premičred both of their works contained here.

In 1942/43 Poulenc composed his Violin Sonata in occupied France where he remained during the war years. Although Jelly d’Arányi had asked Poulenc for a violin sonata it was French virtuoso Ginette Neveu who succeeded in obtaining the score and premičred it at Paris in 1943 with the composer himself accompanying. In response to some criticism Poulenc later revised the score in 1949. One of Poulenc’s most heartfelt compositions, the score bears a dedication to Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca who was assassinated by Fascists at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. According to the booklet notes in each movement there is a quotation from the popular American song ‘Tea for Two’. Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko clearly relish the score, which abounds with melody, richly alive with charm and abounding in joie de vivre. Vivacity and a strong sense of fun are the qualities produced by the duo in the opening movement Allegro. An ethereal atmosphere is created in the somber Intermezzo that serves as an elegy for Lorca. Steadfast playing marks the quirky Finale, Presto tragico, creating a sound world predominantly infused with frantic anxiety and then the surprise of the rather abrupt conclusion. Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko now provide welcome competition for the searching 2014/15 account by Kolja Lessing and Eva-Maria May from an album of Poulenc Chamber Music on Paladino Music.

Delibes’ comic ballet Coppélia, choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon, was premičred at Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra, Paris in 1870 and has experienced enduring popularity. In 1925 Hungarian composer Dohnányi prepared a solo piano arrangement of the much-loved Waltz which is played here by so buoyantly by Polina Leschenko. Although appealing, the piano score feels incongruous when pitted amongst these other works and I’m not sure why it is included here.
Both of Bartók’s two Violin Sonatas were written for Jelly d’Arányi and this second score in two movements, written 1922 was premičred the next year in Berlin. Unquestionably challenging, these are scores composed for a virtuoso violinist of distinction and Bartók stated “The violin part of the two violin sonatas… is extraordinarily difficult, and it is only a violinist of the top class who has any chance of learning them”. Marked Molto moderato, in the first movement Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko create a shadowy, anxiety-laden soundworld followed by the discordantly unsettling Allegretto movement played with intensely fiery passion. Since its release my allegiance has been to the intensity of the 1995 Berlin recording by Anne-Sophie Mutter with Lambert Orkis on Deutsche Grammophon. Now with this perspicacious performance from Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko, Mutter has a serious rival.

Ravel’s Tzigane, rapsodie de concert was a commission by Jelly d’Arányi who gave the premičre in 1924. This virtuosic work with an Hungarian Roma character sees the partnership of Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko respond invigoratingly, providing colour and no shortage of style. One senses that the assured duo gets right under the skin of the score. Ravel’s work is one frequently encountered in the record catalogue both in this chamber score and in the composer’s popular orchestrated version. My much admired first choice recording is the celebrated 1993 account from Maria Joăo Pires and Augustin Dumay on Deutsche Grammophon but this impressive performance from Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko has real merit too.

The partnership of Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko excels in these 20th century chamber scores. With captivating playing, one senses a partnership of assurance and considerable conviction not afraid of placing their own personal stamp on the music.

Recorded at MC2, Maison de la Culture de Grenoble the duo benefit from excellent sound, which is vibrant with a satisfactory balance. In the booklet Lukas Fierz’s interesting essay titled ‘Muses, Folk Music and a Provocation’ provides helpful information about each work.

My only real quibble is with the short playing time, a measly 53 minutes, with clear room to have accommodated another work therefore serving to increase the desirability of the release. Enough room for say Honegger’s First (1918) or Second Violin Sonata (1919), or, without the Dohnányi piano score, Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata.

Michael Cookson



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