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Eugen SUCHOŇ (1908-1993)
Sonata in A Flat Major, for violin and piano, Op. 1 /ES40/ (1929-1930) [22:38]
Sonatina, for violin and piano, Op. 11 /ES57/ (1937) [12:51]
Poeme macabre, for violin and piano, Op. 17 (1963) [10:51]
Little Suite with Passacaglia, for piano, Op. 3 /ES45/ (1931-32) [8:39]
Ballad Suite, for piano, Op. 9 /ES54/ (1934-36) [19:24]
Metamorphoses, five variations on original themes for piano /ES77/ (1951-53) [24:45]
Elegy, for piano /ES96/ (1973) [3:13]
Toccata, for piano /ES96/ (1978) [3:47]
Milan Paľa (violin), Ladislav Fanzowitz (piano)
rec. 2008, Fatra Hall, Žilina, Slovakia

Eugen Suchoň was one of three composers who dominated the classical music scene in Slovakia during the twentieth century; the other two were Alexander Moyzes (1906-1984) and Jan Cikker (1911-1989). He came from a musical family, where both parents were accomplished keyboard players and teachers. Like Moyzes and Cikker, Suchoň was a graduate of the Prague Conservatoire where Vítězslav Novák was his teacher. Throughout his life he held teaching posts in Bratislava. His compositions include opera, symphonic, concertante, chamber, vocal and piano works. Held aloft as the father-figure of Slovak music, he influenced the younger generation of composers who came after him. His style of composition evolved over the years to embrace serialism.

This set comprises two CDs. The first contains music for violin and piano, whilst the second concentrates on works for solo piano. Each of the discs is two sided - one side being an audio CD, the reverse being a DVD-Audio offering surround sound (48KHz/24bit). I have reviewed the set from the audio CDs.

The three movement Sonata in A flat major, Op. 1 was written in 1929-30 when Suchoň was in his early twenties, and the ardent passion that infuses the work reflects this. An assertive piano passage ushers in a sweeping romantic theme on the violin in the opening movement. The entire movement is one of potent emotional intensity. This is followed by a Lento both tender and wistful, climaxing to fervent pleading. The finale unleashes pent up energy, ending the work with verve and vigour.

Seven years later, in 1937, Suchoň penned his Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Op. 11. Again in three movements, the first has restless undercurrents, reinforced by an ostinato piano accompaniment. Then comes an introspective slow movement. Halfway through the violin assumes an improvisatory role in cadenza style, where it meanders occasionally into the very high reaches. The last movement is spiky and percussive, cast in a neoclassical style.

By 1963, when the Poeme macabre, for violin and piano, op. 17 was composed, Suchoň's compositional style has advanced enormously. The work is heavily dissonant with dense chromatic textures and strays into the realm of the atonal. The mood is one of terror, dread and even horror. It certainly packs a powerful punch. Of the three works, this one ranks as top of the list for me.

The selection of solo piano works span a period of just over 45 years. The earliest is the Little Suite with Passacaglia, Op. 3 (1931-1932), which Suchoň composed during his studies with Novák. It started life as a passacaglia, to which he added a three-movement suite, which opens with a prelude. This is recalled at the end in a Reminiscence. Two years later comes the Ballad Suite, Op. 9, a significant work in that it put the composer's name on the map, gaining him European recognition. Suchoň later orchestrated it. Emotionally wide-ranging and rhapsodic, the four-movement Suite opens with all guns blazing, with high end virtuosity called for. A tender Adagio follows. Then comes a scurrying scherzo-like movement, preceding a Largo, con malinconia finale bathed in pathos. Ladislav Fanzowitz meets the demanding technical challenges head-on in a performance of stunning virtuosity.

Fast forward to 1951 and we have the Metamorphoses, five variations on original themes for piano. It's another large-scale canvas. I was struck by the similarity of the opening movement to the equivalent in the Little Suite. The second is lyrically alluring. Then comes a whimsical and capricious third movement. The fourth is fluid and glistening, whilst the final movement hits you with its ferocity. Elegy (1978) was the composer's last original piece for the piano and serves as a quiet leave-taking; it sounds like something Webern could have penned. Toccata (1973) impresses with its busy figurations and virtuosic runs, interspersed with brutal declamatory chords

The music is beautifully recorded, with the chosen venue warm, responsive and sympathetic. Milan Paľa and Ladislav Fanzowitz clearly love this music and seem fully committed, bringing it to life in convincing and virile performances. This is unusual repertoire, and is certainly worth investigating.

Stephen Greenbank

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