Achron: Complete Suites for violin and piano

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Complete Suites for violin and piano
PERFORMER: Hagai Shaham (violin); Arnon Erez (piano)


Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez struck gold in 1997 with a marvellously performed release on the Biddulph label. It featured completely unknown miniatures by the Lithuanian-born violinist, pedagogue and composer Joseph Achron. Previously, Achron’s reputation had rested almost exclusively on a single work: the haunting Hebrew Melody, made famous through recordings by Mischa Elman and Jascha Heifetz. But Shaham’s recital demonstrated that the composer was a far more substantial figure: his stylistic preoccupations extended well beyond the normal confines of virtuoso writing to embrace an exoticism that invites comparison with Enescu and Szymanowski.

Hyperion has generously restored most of the Biddulph recording to the catalogue, forming the first disc in an intriguing and well-filled double album. The second disc introduces a set of five suites which are as varied in character and expression as the miniatures. In the First Suite, Achron provides a brilliant pastiche of Baroque and Classical styles that is easily as attractive and melodically memorable as Fritz Kreisler’s famous efforts, while the Second is equally delightful, alluding more obviously to Tchaikovsky and other Russian Romantics. A more personal voice emerges in the Third Suite, with exploratory harmonies owing much to Scriabin.

This trend becomes more obvious in Suite No. 4, which is more overtly modernist – its ironic melodic twists nod to Prokofiev. As before, Shaham and Erez deliver outstandingly committed performances, revelling in the music’s virtuosity, fantasy and heightened intensity of expression. Hopefully, the interest aroused by this release might encourage Shaham to contemplate further exploration of this fascinating composer with recordings of his Sonatas and Violin Concertos.


Erik Levi