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George ANTHEIL (1900-1959) Specter
Sonatina for violin and piano (1945) [14.34]
Concerto for violin and orchestra (arr. Duo Odéon for violin and piano) (1946) [40.55]
Valses from ‘Specter of the Rose’ (arr. Werner Gebauer) (1947) [6.24]
rec. 2017, Sono Luminus Studio, Boyce, Virginia, USA SONO LUMINUS DSL-92222 [61.59]
Only on a single occasion have I encountered the music of American composer George Antheil in concert and that was the Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano with drum played by Kristin Lee and Gloria Chien at Palais im Großen Garten, Dresden in 2014. At times I felt as if Antheil had set to music an adventurous series of short and riotously contrasting film clips from American music life.
Formed in 2014 Duo Odéon is made up of violinist Hannah Leland and pianist Aimee Fincher who both undertook doctoral studies at Arizona State University, which for Leland included a dissertation on Antheil’s sonatas for violin and piano. Performing contemporary music and unappreciated twentieth-century music are their passion. Given its areas of interest it comes as no surprise that Duo Odéon has turned its attention to the recording of Antheil’s music, recording three of his works on the Solo Luminus label.
The opening work, written in 1945, is the Sonatina for violin and piano commissioned by Antheil’s friend the violinist Werner Gebauer who he met in Washington D.C. Writer Mauro Piccanini describes the work in the booklet essay as “typical of Antheil’s post-war tonal modernism”. The Allegro is an energetic mix of wit and waltz-like romance. Nocturnal in character, the Andante contains a gentle rather sentimentality infused in the writing. With its driving rhythms the Finale: Allegro molto is upbeat and buoyant.
In 1946 Antheil wrote a Concerto for violin and orchestra which was another Gebauer commission. It seems that Antheil had begun composing the work as early as 1923 for another violinist. Gebauer, the dedicatee, visited the composer in 1946 in Hollywood to collaborate on the concerto that was premiered under Antal Doráti the following year in Dallas. Here Duo Odéon is playing an arrangement for violin and piano. Opening with a Moderato assai the dissonant writing feels both determined and cool. The Andante centres around a pair of themes, the first of which has a lyrical, soothing rather reflective quality; by way of contrast the second inhabits a roguish world. Notable for its syncopated rhythms with a distinct Latin flavor, the confident Finale marked Presto capriccio is set against a bluesy sometimes jazzy feel.
The final pieces on the album are a set of three short waltzes for violin and piano that Gebauer arranged from Antheil’s score to Ben Hecht’s film noir Specter of the Rose (1947). They are highly appealing, and one could see these waltzes making ideal encore pieces. The first piece Maestoso is reflective, a touch languid, the second Poco allegretto sounds rather grotesque and the third piece Più vivo has a bold and urgent quality.
In their guise as Duo Odéon, Hannah Leland and Aimee Fincher, despite the occasional rough edges, perform splendidly and seem to relish every bar of Antheil’s writing. These notably committed players have an unaffected, direct approach producing exuberantly rhythmic performances. No problems at all with the fresh and clear recording produced at Sono Luminus Studio, Boyce, Virginia. In the booklet Duo Odéon provide an interesting essay and there is a second titled ‘About the music’ by Antheil specialist Mauro Piccinini. This fascinating album of Antheil’s music for violin and piano engaged me from the first note to the last.