Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2. Rhapsodies: No. 1; No. 2
Georgy Valtchev (vn); Lora Tchekoratova (pn)
GEGA 320 (78:13)
Bulgarian violinist Georgy Valtchev brings sprigs of ethnic seasoning to Bartók’s Second Rhapsody, a seasoning he’s achieved through a highly nuanced tone and aggressive though not percussive approach to the music (as well as a congeniality with the character of the dances in the
section). He shares the approach
with his wife, pianist Lora Tchekoratova, though the engineers seem to have placed him somewhat in front of the piano. The composer’s First Sonata can be a difficult nut to crack, and some have taken it head-on, insouciantly blasting through its dissonant difficulties, as does Mark Kaplan, seemingly for the pure joy of it (Arabesque 6649, 18:2). Others, including Isaac Stern (Sony 69245, 21:1)—and Valtchev and Tchekoratova—think and feel their way though the knots, unraveling them with an aplomb that derives from both intellectual and emotional confidence. That’s what they do in the first movement of the First Sonata, which can be forbidding indeed. Here, some listeners could actually lose track of just what language Bartók happens to be speaking, so sure does his message sound. And, in the process, what could be an abstract dissertation emerges as an eloquent dialogue. That process becomes more inner-oriented in the second movement, in which the performers give direction to lines that otherwise might wander. In the finale, however, Valtchev and Tchekoratova strongly animate the dance-like melodies; once again, even doubtful listeners may find themselves thinking less of the dissonant language than the compelling musical statement the performers share with the composer.
The Second Sonata has typically been somewhat easier to crack, but so compellingly does the duo unravel the First Sonata’s skeins that the Second hardly sounds more accessible. Nevertheless, they’re attuned to its mysterious atmosphere. But nowhere is the duo’s tendency to look for the musical idea rather than for a knife-fight more evident than in the opening of the First Rhapsody, which can sound like a series of aggressive thrusts. Valtchev plays with a warm tone in the first section, appropriate perhaps to the Rhapsody’s Gypsy content; and he adopts a jaunty tempo in the second.
For anyone trying to make a case for the accessibility of Bartók’s works for violin and piano, Gega’s collection should serve as a prime exhibit. They’re thoroughly engaging, even in the sonatas’ thornier moments, and so strongly do they agree in their basic approach that the sonatas seem that way too. A critic once wrote that Isaac Stern made Bartók sound like Brahms. Others, of course, have made him sound more like Webern. Leaping into this great divide, Valtchev and Tchekoratova take a position that others may have overlooked: that Bartók ought to sound like Bartók. Very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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