Bartok: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Rhapsodies Nos 1 & 2

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Rhapsodies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)


This beautifully recorded disc provides us with all the mature works Bartók composed for violin and piano. They are performances of outstanding musical insight and technical brilliance. Stylistically, much of the programme is a tough proposition, the two Sonatas in particular reflecting the turbulent modernism that Bartók explored in the aftermath of the First World War. James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong perfectly encapsulate the anxieties projected in both works. They relish the aggressive musical dialogue that dominates the outer movements of the First Sonata, tearing into the percussive writing with great ferocity while at the same time ensuring that the high-voltage tension is sustained to the very last note. But they also find room for repose and reflection, conveying an uneasy calm in the central Adagio and a disconcerting eeriness in the fluctuating moods of the Second Sonata’s opening movement.

The Rhapsodies, on the other hand, present Bartók in a far more ebullient mood. Ehnes negotiates with outrageous ease all the hair-raising technical difficulties
posed in the folk-inflected faster passagework. Ensemble between violin and piano in the rhythmically complex sections is razor-sharp.

Placed at the end of the disc, the alternative and more familiar ending to Part II of the First Rhapsody provides an added bonus. Before that, we hear the uncharacteristically Brahmsian Andante of 1902, performed with exquisite sensitivity and delicacy.

As with Ehnes’s recording of the Concertos, the present collection sweeps the board in terms of performance and generosity alike. Indeed, the fine rival recording of Sonatas and Rhapsodies from Isabelle Faust (on Harmonia Mundi) stretches to two CDs.


Erik Levi