Bartók Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2
The Solo Sonata is undoubtedly the most substantial work on this disc, the warmly recorded second volume of James Ehnes’s survey of Bartók’s violin output. Written for Yehudi Menuhin in 1944, a year before the composer’s death, it’s tough and uncompromising music that presents considerable challenges to the interpreter. Needless to say, the score holds no terrors for Ehnes who delivers a magisterial performance. The opening Chaconne, with its obvious allusions to Bach, is dispatched with great dramatic verve, while, in the ensuing Fugue, Ehnes maximises textural contrast without compromising the natural flow of the musical argument. After the profoundly moving and deeply introverted Melodia, the moto perpetuo of the concluding Presto bristles with rhythmic energy.
Ehnes and his excellent pianist, Andrew Armstrong, make the best possible case for reappraising the early Violin Sonata of 1903, dismissed by the composer as a mere apprentice work. Although Brahms remains a pervasive musical influence, there are glimpses of the more angular style that Bartók was to pursue years later. Ehnes and Armstrong relish the highly-strung emotional tussle between violin and piano in the opening movement. They also encapsulate the sharply contrasting moods in the variations of the central Andante to perfection. The Finale, with its infectious gypsy-style rhythms, is performed here with great verve and flamboyance, as are the exhilarating Hungarian and Romanian folk-dance arrangements.