Janacek: Violin Sonata; Capriccio; Romance; Dumka; Allegro

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Violin Sonata; Capriccio; Romance; Dumka; Allegro
PERFORMER: Ildikó Line (violin), Thomas Hlawatsch (piano); wind ensemble/Tamás Benedek
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553588
Janácek’s chamber music is as pungently characterised as his operas, and always requires a dramatic approach. The Violin Sonata seems to have been inspired by the composer’s looking forward to the arrival of Russian forces at the start of the First World War. Thomas Hlawatsch and Ildikó Line have a fine grasp of the narrative aspects of the sonata, projecting a sense of expectation in the first movement and dealing expertly with the grotesque gestures of the outer parts of the Allegretto; they also make the best of the lyrical opportunities in the work. Their performance is highly recommendable, but Josef Suk’s passionate rendition, not as well recorded on Carlton, still has a slight edge.

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The remaining violin and piano pieces, all played with insight, are useful bonuses: the Romance and Dumka are student works, only revealing the mature composer in an occasional turn of phrase. The Allegro, however, is a discarded version of the third movement of the sonata and makes for a fascinating comparison.

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The Capriccio for piano (left hand) and wind ensemble is one of the oddest of all Janácek’s chamber works. Prompted by a pianist who had lost his right hand in the Great War, it is an explosive mix of humour, sentiment and frank brutishness. Under Benedek, the brass instruments, rasping away furiously, help generate a magnificently exhilarating conclusion to the first movement. The performers are more than convincing in the remaining movements and get as close to the heart of this enigmatic work as any ensemble on record. Jan Smaczny