Notes and Editorial Reviews
Zack tempers his performance of the daunting Bartók Sonata with insight and even wit, and even Oistrakh didn’t bring to the Ysaye Ballade the vibrancy with which Zack plays it.
ESSENTIALS—WORKS FOR SOLO VIOLIN
Herwig Zack (vn)
AVIE 2155 (78:45)
class="ARIAL12b"> Violin Partita No. 2.
Violin Sonata No. 3,
Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice
Although Herwig Zack explains in his notes that the title “Essentials” bears several connotations, it’s clear that while these pieces may have posed musical challenges throughout Zack’s career, they’re also arguably just about the cream of the crop of the solo violin’s repertoire. Recorded with a rather large but neither obfuscating nor distracting amount of reverberation in September 2007 and in January and July 2008 in the Kammermusiksaal in the Würzburg Hochschule für Musik, where Zack teaches, they demonstrate the range of techniques by which composers have striven to hold the attention of listeners with a single, basically non-contrapuntal, instrument.
Zack takes a somewhat rapid tempo at the outset of the Tempo di ciaccona that opens Bartók’s daunting solo Sonata. Zack may not be seduced into representing monolithically the work’s angularity and dissonance, but he doesn’t shy from these aspects of Bartók’s music, either. Behind that first movement, however, he exposes an ample, nearly improvisational, fancy. In the second movement, he revels in, rather than simply reveals, the polyphony’s almost terrifying complexity. Yet, tempering his performance with insight and even wit, he never sounds merely daunting: intelligence and integrity subsume all the more specific characteristics and mannerisms upon which he might have depended. As in the earlier movements, Zack doesn’t get lost in a welter of effects in the Melodia, playing straightforwardly rather than histrionically. Although Zack mentions in his notes that the Presto makes allusions to Bartók’s hallmark folk-like materials, Zack doesn’t play them to the hilt, either, though, as throughout, he employs portamentos and expressive devices appropriate to the composer’s unique, though eclectic, idiom. Performances of this work range from steely thrusting ones, such as, for example, György Pauk’s reading on Naxos 8.550868, which I reviewed in 19:5, and Ruggiero Ricci’s on One-Eleven 92020 (in 17:2, David K. Nelson suggested that Ricci had “reached the stage where some degree of caution would yield benefits”), as well as Viktoria Mullova’s on Philips 420948, 12:4 (EMI 69804) to name three established performances, to those like Eugene Drucker’s on Biddulph LAW 020, which, I noted in 22:4, suggested a performer seemingly stretched on the rack of the work’s demands, demands that take no mercy on “a performer who fades in the heat of battle.” My own preferences, in more tranquil moods, have been for readings like those of Yehudi Menuhin, for whom Bartók wrote the Sonata (re-released on EMI 69804) and of Christian Tetzlaff (Virgin 59062—although James H. North found him more bracing but less warm than Menuhin in 15:4). Zack’s reading falls into this last group.
In Zack’s reading of Bach’s Partita, he lifts his bow from the strings to achieve a stroke of an airiness reminiscent of the sound produced by a Baroque bow. (Having been puzzled over the years by the fussy articulation in Leopold Auer’s edition of Bach’s sonatas and partitas, I’m tempted to wonder whether Auer might have been trying to suggest just this “modern” and “historically informed” manner.) And in the Corrente, Zack takes a breathless tempo that suggests very clearly the stylized dance’s origins. In its own way, the Sarabanda sounds similarly dancelike: tarter and more piquant than usual. If it’s not “Bach meets Piazzolla,” it’s not solemn or straightforward either. And the Giga is headlong and dashing (here the reverberation provides almost a harmonic underpinning to the cascades of notes and the slight
). At 13:28, the Chaconne’s timing might suggest hustle-bustle, but Zack never pushes unduly; as a result, the piece sounds exceptionally cogent, though compact. And at the tempos he’s chosen, he can’t overstay his welcome in sections that might have seemed to some violinists to extend an unambiguous invitation. Adding to the movement’s general liveliness, Zack employs a wide variety of off-the-string bowings and plays the rushing notes with a panache that suggests similar passages in older German virtuoso music by composers like Biber and Schmelzer. These similarities also bring Zack closer in spirit to period-instrument performers—though he hardly sounds like one—than to more mannered performers like Milstein or Heifetz (though Zack provides plenty of nuance), or to more labored ones like, perhaps, Szigeti. (The concluding variations, for example, sound exuberant rather than heavy-handed.)
Eugène Ysaÿe’s “Ballade,” grounded in a very different sensibility, also seems congenial to Zack’s musical temperament (he studied for a while with Josef Gingold, so he may have absorbed the piece and its idiom from the violinist whom he’s identified as having premiered the Sonata in both Brussels and New York). Even Oistrakh, for whom the Sonata became something of a specialty, didn’t bring to it the vibrancy with which Zack plays it.
Nikos Skalkottas’s Sonata, the only less familiar (though not unpublished) work in the program, sounds spiky and cheeky, if a bit uncompromising, with what might seem to be melodic and technical references to Bartók’s work, if that composer’s Sonata hadn’t been composed nearly a generation later (this style of writing for the violin must have been in the air). And the recital concludes with an imaginative, highly individual reading of Fritz Kreisler’s brief showpiece for violin, which, as Zack suggests, serves as a kind of encore.
Zack’s technique and tonal command make him a more-than-adequate explorer of these vast, though microminiaturized, landscapes. Still, both technical display and tonal beauty appear to lie beyond Zack’s purposes; he seems, rather, to be intent on animating, or even reanimating, these staples. I remember attending a recital for solo violin played by one of Auer’s last students that served almost as a soporific; this one’s wired. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Violin Partita no 2 (Bach): II. Corrente
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