Bartok: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Sonata for Solo Violin

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Sonata for Solo Violin
PERFORMER: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 45668 2
Bartók wrote his two violin sonatas in the early Twenties for the Hungarian-born player Jelly d’Arányi. They followed hard on the heels of his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, and the three works are among the most astringent he ever wrote. The First Sonata, in particular, makes extreme demands on performers and listeners alike, but it’s an endlessly fascinating piece, and surely one of the very finest 20th-century works of its kind. Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes play both sonatas with admirable intensity and rhythmic élan, and it’s hard to imagine them better and more sympathetically done. If you want even more visceral excitement, there’s always the electrifying account of the First Sonata by Kremer and Argerich (DG), though some may find it at times almost too aggressive. It’s worth mentioning, too, that both sonatas can be had at bargain-price on a Naxos disc by György Pauk and Jenó Jandó: innately musical performances, if less well recorded than this newcomer. Tetzlaff has recorded the Solo Violin Sonata before. This new one is another impressive performance, with admirably hushed pianissimos, though again Pauk runs it a close second. The CD booklet misleadingly suggests that Bartók decided against including passages in quarter-tones in the finale. In fact Yehudi Menuhin, who commissioned the sonata, did his best to talk the composer out of them, and then failed to indicate them when he edited the work for publication. (The micro-intervals are actually more discernible on Pauk’s recording, with its slightly slower tempo.) All in all, a superb disc, and a valuable addition to the Bartók discography.

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