Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonata No. 1. Scherzo in c,
Violin Sonata No. 1
Ryoko Yano (vn); Sergey Kuznetsov (pn)
PAN 10217 (67:56)
Ryoko Yano was a name new to me when I received this CD for review. So you can imagine my reaction (or perhaps you can’t) when I Googled her, and was treated to some extremely racy, borderline pornographic photos. How unfortunate for
Ryoko Yano, the violinist, that she happens to share the same name with a Japanese Internet porn queen. If I were Ryoko, I’d file immediately for a name change. Violinist Yano was born in 1982, and studied under Jean-Jacques Kantorow. She’s won a number of competition prizes, and performed throughout Japan, Italy, France, and elsewhere.
Sergey Kuznetsov also happens to share the same name with a number of other Kuznetsovs, but none involved in anything quite as lurid as the Russian porn industry. Those other Kuznetsovs hail from a long line of well-known Russian footballers. Pianist Kuznetsov, born in 1978, is also an award-winning artist, has performed widely, and is currently on the faculty of the University of Southern California.
This is an odd pairing of works, but one that suggests there might be follow-ups coupling Brahms’s Second Sonata with Bartók’s Second, followed by Brahms’s Third Sonata with Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin. One can hope, for this is one of the loveliest recordings of the Brahms G-Major Sonata to come my way, something I haven’t said since the last one came my way, which was with Nikolaj Znaider and Yefim Bronfman (see 31:2). Seriously though, Yano’s approach is refreshingly innocent sounding, more like a spring shower than the autumn rain often heard in the hands of other artists. At every turn, she brings touches of verdure to the piece, as in her phrasing of the first movement’s second theme. Her intonation is impeccable, and her tone honeyed but free of any cloying thickness. And for once, Brahms’s piano writing in the hands of Kuznetsov emerges with a pristine clarity that enables us to hear the interlocking exchanges between the voices. Though the work is fairly late Brahms, Yano and Kuznetsov play it without the baggage of world-weariness that weighs down other performances with feelings of end-draws-nigh angst, as in Shlomo Mintz’s “slow-mo” reading.
The without-opus Scherzo is of course the movement that by now everyone knows Brahms contributed to the so-called “F.A.E. Sonata,” instigated by Schumann as a gift for Joachim. Beyond that, there’s not much to say about it, other than the fact that it’s possibly the earliest piece Brahms wrote for violin and piano. Its driving rhythmic figure would echo many years later in the composer’s C-Minor Piano Quartet.
Bartók’s Violin Sonata No. 1, completed in 1921, was not the composer’s first sonata for violin and piano. That distinction goes to a very early work in E Minor he wrote in 1903. Stylistically, this first numbered sonata is a bit out of character compared to the Hungarian flavored and rhythmically inflected works by which the composer is probably best known, at least until we arrive midway through the Adagio movement. The Hungarian stomping dance element then makes its appearance in full force in the last movement.
Though Schoenberg had not yet published his 12-tone manifesto—that would come in 1923, Bartók was well read and up to date on the experiments in atonal music going on at the time. And to a not insignificant degree, his Violin Sonata No. 1 flirts with atonality and an experimental modernism that he would later reject. As Bartók goes, this is not his most accessible or immediately lovable score, but it has become
for many violinists. Modern-era proponents of the piece have been Midori, Josefowicz, and more recently, Christian Tetzlaff. But some of the old guard had a go at it as well: Oistrakh, twice actually, once with Frida Bauer and again with Richter; Stern with Zakin, and André Gertler, who actually performed with Bartók for much of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t think Yano and Kuznetsov are going to replace some of these, especially not, for my money, the one with Stern and Zakin—I think Stern had a special affinity for Bartók—but this new version is still mighty fine.
The recording is beautifully balanced, open, and spacious; and the New Pan Classics album, a Swiss production, is sumptuously packaged. Very highly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1, Sz 75 by Béla Bartók
Sergei Kuznetsov (Piano),
Ryoko Yano (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1921; Budapest, Hungary
Scherzo for Violin and Piano in C minor, WoO 2 "FAE Sonata" by Johannes Brahms
Ryoko Yano (Violin),
Sergei Kuznetsov (Piano)
Written: 1853; Germany
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in G major, Op. 78 by Johannes Brahms
Sergei Kuznetsov (Piano),
Ryoko Yano (Violin)
Written: 1878-1879; Austria
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