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Antheil: Sonatas For Violin & Piano / Mark Fewer, John Novacek

Antheil / Fewer / Novacek
Release Date: 02/22/2011 
Label:  Azica   Catalog #: 71263   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Antheil
Performer:  Mark FewerJohn Novacek
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ANTHEIL Violin Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2; No. 4. Solo Violin Sonata (unfinished) Mark Fewer (vn); John Novacek (pn) AZICA 17263 (64:25)

George Antheil has been characterized as a bad boy, and in his violin sonatas, he employed musical resources more flippantly, if not more audaciously, than did others. Mark Fewer and John Novacek’s collection begins with the Second Sonata’s Allegro from 1923 (Antheil dedicated it to his friend Ezra Pound). Mauro Picanini’s notes relate that Antheil Read more later renounced the work and threw movements from it and his Third Sonata together into what he designated as Violin Sonata No. 4 (2). The Allegro pays rather explicit homage to Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat without actually quoting it, but it doesn’t stay with any idea, reminiscence, or influence very long. A section of tone clusters gives way to ragtime gives way to ... well, whatever it gives way to. By the end, after a rollicking section of pounding on the piano, pianist Novacek takes up timpani (which, he explains in the interview included in the booklet, they tuned to fifths because they had to tune them somehow).

The First Sonata, also from 1923, and dedicated to violinist Olga Rudge, whose playing captivated Antheil and who apparently captivated Pound in other ways, begins with an Allegro moderato. Picanini’s notes relate that Antheil especially admired Rudge’s tone in the lower registers, but all kinds of things emerge from various regions of the violin in this movement (and throughout the sonata): Stravinsky-like rhythmic cells, arabesques, effects of almost every possible kind ( sul ponticello or sul everything). Again, the notes suggest that Bartók may have served as a model, and it’s easy to hear insistent Bartókian rhythms and dissonances, especially near the beginning of the movement’s last third before the return to a sort of parody of L’Histoire du Soldat . But none of this may rile even the most conservative listeners, who should quickly figure out that while Antheil may not exactly be pulling their legs, he’s not dourly rubbing their noses in unrelieved dissonance, either. For example, the second movement, an Andante moderato, begins with whistling sounds in the high registers over a simple accompaniment; but, as with everything else, it doesn’t last long. On occasion, something begins, finds itself interrupted, and gives way again, after a pause that hardly misses a beat, to the earlier pattern. Here’s an effect that sounds almost cinematically comic, and many listeners would be hard-pressed to find its parallel in Bartók’s violin sonatas—or even in the works of Charles Ives. The third movement, Funebre , explores a similarly wide range of expression, despite insistent Satie-like repetitions of quiet sonorities, and the brief finale shifts chameleon-like between gestures of many kinds, including thrusts and perpetual motions.

The Sonata No. 4 comes from a much later date, 1947–48, when Antheil, according to the notes, had returned to the United States, specifically to Hollywood, where he composed music for movies. With its more centered harmonies, the late sonata sounds, in its opening, like the lighthearted banter and shifting harmonies characteristic of so many works by Francis Poulenc—or, as the notes explicitly suggest, Serge Prokofiev’s ironic twists set to motoric rhythms. This Scherzo remains elfin throughout (an almost paradigmatic Allegro giocoso ). The second movement, a Passacaglia, recalls in its form, if not in its content, similar movements in Dmitri Shostakovich’s works (as in the Russian composer’s First Violin Concerto). The variations reach into more distant expressive regions, however, including a rhythmic march-like one. The finale relieves its bright chatter with various familiar songs (Antheil’s description, which the notes reproduce, labels it a toccata-like rondo).

Antheil wrote his Solo Violin Sonata (only the first movement and the incomplete second appear here) for Rudge; according to the notes, it resides in the stacks of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and has never until now been performed. After a meditative beginning, the first movement wanders further into manners and modes of expression, yet nothing in the work ends up sounding so forbidding as any dozen-or-so measures of Bartók’s contribution to the solo violin literature.

Do Fewer and Novacek play these works well? The jewel case’s cover features a drawing of a violin by Antheil accompanied by a drawing of a saw, identified as the thing that should play it. That’s not the way either Fewer or Novacek make this music sound. The booklet’s interview suggests that their explorations might have been a lot of fun, and that’s just the way the sonatas sound in their performances. Recordings of the works (without the Solo Sonata, of which Fewer’s reading, as mentioned, purports to be the premiere) have come and gone over the years (including an early one from 1948 by Israel Baker and Yaltah Menuhin), largely flying beneath Fanfare ’s radar. Violinists and intrepid explorers should be very happy to have the sonatas available once again, and the Bad Boy ensconced—without a dunce cap, of course (if not of curse)—in a readily approachable corner. Zestfully (not jestfully) recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano: Allegro by George Antheil
Performer:  Mark Fewer (Violin), John Novacek (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1923; United States of Ame 
Venue:  Multi-Media Room, Schulich School of Mus 
Length: 8 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Sonata, for violin & piano No. 1, W. 130 by George Antheil
Performer:  John Novacek (Piano), Mark Fewer (Violin)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1923 
Venue:  Multi-Media Room, Schulich School of Mus 
Length: 24 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Sonata, for violin & piano No. 4 (the second "No. 2"), W. 141 by George Antheil
Performer:  John Novacek (Piano), Mark Fewer (Violin)
Period: Modern 
Venue:  Multi-Media Room, Schulich School of Mus 
Length: 6 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Sonata for solo violin (incomplete) by George Antheil
Performer:  John Novacek (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: circa 1923 
Venue:  Multi-Media Room, Schulich School of Mus 
Length: 11 Minutes 17 Secs. 

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