Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, Op. Posth. (1903)
George Enescu (1881-1955)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in A minor, Op. 25 (1926)
Joseph Achron (1886–1943)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 2, Op. 45 (1918)
Tassilo Probst (violin)
Maxim Lando (piano)
rec. 2021, Underground concert hall, Haus Marteau, Germany
BERLIN CLASSICS 0302767BC [2 CDs: 85]
This is Tassilo Probst’s debut recording but looking at his busy award-winning agenda you wonder he had the time to make it, let alone at the age of 20. Also of the younger generation, Maxim Lando has experience performing with violinists such as Daniel Hope, so this is top notch talent at work in an unusual and interesting recital programme.
Bartók’s Sonata in E minor is an early work in a fully red-blooded Romantic idiom clearly relished by these musicians. The booklet notes take the form of an interview with Tassilo Probst and Malte Hemmerich asking the questions. “At times this piece veers towards Richard Strauss... such great lyrical harmonies and melodies... that’s the beauty of it.” This is the kind of recording you can put on, with a guarantee that no-one in the room will guess the composer. There are some whiffs of more Bartók-like atmosphere and overt Hungarian folk-music style in the second Andante movement, but that Romantic idiom is never far away. With virtuosity and eloquence in equal measure from both players this is a stunning opening and great fun as well.
Enescu’s Third Violin Sonata for Violin and Piano is “pure Romanian folk music”, with the composer’s mature style integrating with national style in a magical way. The piano often becomes a cimbalom, and the violin swoops and flies with avian freedom. This is music with an improvisatory feel, but Probst reminds us that Enescu’s detailed instructions have to be followed “absolutely one hundred per cent” in order to gain those effects. He also reminds us of its rhythmic complexity, with “incredibly difficult” interplay, with places in which “four different rhythms run up against each other, when actually they don’t fit together.” The stormy climax in the second movement and this work’s general feel of agitation and melancholy comes closest to making that ‘Into Madness’ title applicable to this programme so far, but this is only CD 1.
Joseph Achron has received some attention in recent years, with albums such as the Complete Suites turning up on the Hyperion label (review). Having a world premiere recording of his Second Sonata Op. 45 is however quite a coup. Probst accounts for its neglect through its being “technically very hard to play... Musically it’s fantastic, but also complete lunacy in places.” This recital is just a few minutes too long to fit on a single disc, but at 30 minutes having the Achron sonata on a separate disc makes perfect sense. This is the kind of work that takes a few listens before you can absorb something of what makes it tick. The first movement is an intense and remarkably driven Giocondo, which is followed by an unquiet Misterioso e fantastico. The third movement takes the function of a scherzo, being a lively Burla, and the whole thing is rounded off with a Focoso movement in which the players describe the ungainly swing of an oddly encrusted pendulum. This is one of those ‘living in the moment’ pieces, which you can follow through concentrated listening, but in which at times the violin and piano almost seem to be living entirely independent lives. This is certainly a remarkable premiere and I’m delighted to see it recorded, but this is indeed a tricky and at times somewhat gnarly work that will have to fight hard to become mainstream repertoire, though it is one of the most symphonic violin sonatas I have ever heard.
These are all “relatively unknown sonatas” and, while I’m sure there are alternatives with the Bartók and Enescu works the unique nature of this recital sells itself. This is something for violin and unusual repertoire seekers and serves as an object lesson for aspiring soloists when considering that “recording something unknown is more interesting than making the thousandth recording of a Beethoven sonata.” Recording quality is excellent in this production, and nor can I find fault in the playing. Bravo!
November 11, 2022