Ravel, Kod‡ly, Bach & Handel/Halvorsen

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach & Handel/Halvorsen,Kodaly,Ravel
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Duos for Violin & Cello
WORKS: Works
PERFORMER: Nigel Kennedy (violin), Lynn Harrell (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56963 2
The only problem for me about the Nige – sorry, Kennedy – persona is that it’s just a colossal distraction. Let’s try and forget the image and concentrate on the musicianship – because, as this disc reveals, it’s worth taking very seriously indeed. How many violinists could grip one’s attention for nearly an hour in repertoire like this? Ravel’s 1922 Sonata and Kodály’s Op. 7 Duo are magnificent works, but the medium of violin and cello duo normally demands a lot of concentration. Without the inner voices of the string quartet the writing inevitably tends to be spare and linear – no rich, alluring harmonies to seduce the ear. But in these performances, it’s hard to believe one’s only hearing two voices. The sound is so full, the colours and shades of expression Kennedy and Harrell bring to this music so subtly varied, that at times one could be listening to a first-rate quartet, or even a small string orchestra.

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Even after several hearings, I’m still astonished at the depth and power of the Ravel. Not even the Juillet/Mørk version on Decca makes such a commanding case for this still-neglected work – in fact, compared to Kennedy and Harrell they sound a little too coolly composed. Here the Sonata is every bit as compelling and emotionally rewarding as the much better-known Piano Trio and Violin and Piano Sonata. The same passion, flair and grasp of structure emerges in the Kodály – this has to be one of his most original chamber works. If there’s a recorded version which anywhere near matches this, I can’t think of it. The famous Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia sounds gloriously resonant in this arrangement (the original was for the relatively bloodless violin/viola duo), while the Bach E major two-part Invention is an exquisite surprise –a perfect ending to a unique, sumptuously recorded recital disc. An unqualified recommendation.