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Le monde selon George Antheil

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Joonas Ahonen (piano) (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Le monde selon George Antheil
Antheil: Violin Sonata No. 1; Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 7; plus pieces by Cage and Feldman
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Joonas Ahonen (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA 797   64:46 mins

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Inventor, ‘futurist’, writer, pianist, American composer George Antheil dubbed himself the ‘bad boy of music’, and certainly the Violin Sonata he composed in 1923 shortly after arriving in Europe pulls no punches. It might lack the eye-popping line-up of the Ballet mécanique with its 16 player-pianos, siren, percussion and three aircraft propellers, but in a reading as viscerally bold as Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s, it thrills and intrigues. Across the outer movements both performers pursue Antheil’s truculently provocative mechanistic browbeating with conspiratorial relish and unstoppable élan. Kopatchinskaja unleashed is a thing to behold; and Joonas Ahonen is every bit as engaged and resolute as the fizzing ferment of Petrushka or the savagery of The Rite of Spring are left blinking in disbelief.

Fuelled by a trip to Tunis, the two inner movements are imbued with ‘all the strangeness of Africa’ according to Antheil, and Kopatchinskaja is in thrall to their mercurial fantasy. She’s also ravishingly lambent in the dreamy moonbathing of Cage’s Nocturnewhose sensual torpor is disturbed by some strategic spikiness. And the Feldman is navigated with sure-footed expressivity and dramatic precision. Less successful, though, is Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 30 No. 2. In live performance the sheer febrile intensity would doubtless convince; but for repeated listening, her urge to startle, the self-regarding quirkiness and sometimes gruffly ‘pinched’ violin sonorities prove distracting – even as they determinedly position Beethoven as a ‘bad boy of music’ in his own right!

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Paul Riley