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LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók: Chamber Works for Violin
WORKS: Contrasts; Sonatina; 44 Duos for two violins
PERFORMER: James Ehnes, Amy Schwartz Moretti (violin), Michael Collins (clarinet), Andrew Armstrong (piano)


Although Bartók’s 44 Duos for two violins may have initially been conceived as a sequence of teaching pieces, such is the quality of musical invention in these unpretentious miniatures that they prove equally satisfying for both listeners and performers. Certainly James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti make the best possible case for experiencing the entire cycle in one whole sweep. They maximise the amount of colour that can be squeezed out of the simplest two-part writing and sustain vibrant musical dialogue throughout. More importantly, both artists manage to encapsulate an amazing variety of moods. Particularly impressive is the pathos and melancholy projected in the ‘Cradle Song’ and ‘Wedding Song’ in Book 1 and the sensuality and exoticism of the ‘Arabian Song’ from Book 4. Other highlights include the pulsating rhythmic drive of ‘Ruthenian kolomejka’ in Book 3 and the eerie nocturnal imagery of the ‘Mosquito Dance’ in Book 2.

Prior to the Duos, Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong deliver a charming account of the Piano Sonatina in an effective transcription for violin and piano by André Gertler. But the major work in this fine disc is undoubtedly Contrasts composed for Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman in the late 1930s. Here Ehnes and Armstrong are joined by Michael Collins who proves to be a superbly responsive partner making light work of the outrageously virtuosic cadenza in the first movement and daring violinist and pianist to maintain immaculate ensemble even in the fast and furious stretto passages in the closing section of the Finale. Indeed such is the brilliance and sensitivity of the playing that I hope these performers can be coaxed back into the studio to record other 20th-century works for this particular instrumental combination, such as Berg’s Adagio or Khachaturian’s Trio.


Erik Levi