Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonata No. 2. Rhapsody No. 1.
Tim Vogler (vn); Jascha Nemtsov (pn)
PROFIL 9001 (70:00)
Jascha Nemtsov’s notes tell the story of Bartók’s writing about Anatolian folk music and of Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s (1907–1991) responding to correct Bartók’s impression of its origin. Bartók’s
subsequent trip to Turkey occasioned a friendship between the two musicians that lasted for several years and resulted in a book about Bartók that won awards for Saygun in Hungary. Perhaps more important, Saygun himself came to be regarded as a sort of Turkish Bartók.
Tim Vogler and Nemtsov have gathered together two works by each of the two composers, Bartók’s Second Sonata and Rhapsody and Saygun’s Suite, op. 3 (from 1956), and his Sonata, op. 20, from 1941—of which Vogler’s purports to be the first recording. Of Bartók’s two sonatas, the Second seems more heavily influenced than is its predecessor by the kind of
folk music that Bartók collected, though it’s no colorful pastiche, arguably less accessible than the violin or viola concertos, though exciting in its own right. Vogler and Nemtsov make a great deal of the work’s special effects, playing the first movement’s ethnic declamation with palpable suggestivity (by comparison, Bartók himself and Szigeti sound almost abstract) and the second movement with exciting rushes of rapid notes. If they don’t blunt the work’s edginess, they don’t sharpen its flying fragments either. If they had taken as their explicit program a demonstration of the Sonata’s folk origins, they perhaps wouldn’t have played it very much differently. Vogler displays an alert command of the work’s thorny technical problems and produces an attractive tone throughout.
Saygun’s Suite evokes its ethnic origins in more traditional harmonic language. Its first movement, a three-minute Prelude, recalls Bloch’s
before leading into a rhythmic Horon that approaches closer to Bartók’s manner of expression, with swirling figuration and sharp accentuation. A slow dance, the Zeybek, serves as the third movement, and a Kastamonian Dance brings the Suite to a close. These pieces remain for the most part well within the range of traditional tonality, though modestly extended; they reach a level of dissonance even milder than that of Bartók’s Romanian folk dances. Vogler seems well attuned to their exotic, impassioned rhetoric; and his representation of their cultural ambiance sets up Bartók’s First Rhapsody, which, though similar, sounds grittier and more sinewy in Vogler’s and Nemtsov’s strong-minded performance. Captured close up, Vogler’s grand gestures represent him as larger than life, as perhaps he should be in this larger-than-life music, which Nemtsov describes as focused on Gypsy music. I remember Isaac Stern’s old recording of this work making it seem to fall very much within the mainstream, and Vogler’s recording with Nemtsov makes a similar impression.
Saygun’s Violin Sonata, cast in four movements (Andante, Molto vivo, Largo, and Allegro), doesn’t explore the harmonic outback as energetically as does Bartók’s Second Sonata (to say nothing of his First). In fact, it exhibits its connections to the folk idiom more obviously in its overall sensibility than in specific musical gestures. While figures may recur throughout the first movement (which occupies a bit less than half of the work’s total length), and while these seem to generate much of the melodic material, the more traditional harmonic idiom (about as far advanced as that in Busoni’s Second Sonata) tends to bend them to its will. The brief second movement’s rhythmic, dance-like energy holds it closer to its folk roots, as does the finale’s coarse-grained ethnicity.
Those interested in Bartók should find in this pairing of the two musicological collaborators (Bartók and Saygun) a fascinating footnote to Bartók’s folkloric explorations, so the success of the program for them may not depend in an essential way on the success of Saygun’s compositions themselves. And general listeners should respond to the charismatic performances as well as to Saygun’s music itself (and, it almost but not quite goes without saying, to Bartók’s). Warmly recommended.
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