Notes and Editorial Reviews
2 Elegies. Sonatas for 2 Violins: No. 7;
. Concerto for Violin and String Quartet
Andreas Seidel (vn); Chia Chou (pn); Leipzig Str Qrt
MDG 307 1528 (56:30)
Gustav Allan Pettersson’s chamber works for violin all come from that string-playing composer’s early years, before, and barely reaching into, the early 1950s. MDG’s program begins with one of the earliest, the Two Elegies, from 1934 (published posthumously). These brief works, an Andantino and another slow movement, explore the violin’s somber moods, and violinist Yamai Yu plays them on a Matteo Gofriller violin from 1730 with a creamy, rich tone that enhances their haunting poignancy. Three of the seven sonatas Pettersson wrote for two violins, from the early 1950s—No. 7, No. 2, and No. 3—appear to be the latest on the program. The Seventh explores a wide range of textures and devices. Not tonal, even by the exercise of an active imagination, its harmonic logic nevertheless makes its ideas relatively transparent, and the gesturally rich performance by Yu and Leipzig violinist Andreas Seidel (playing a 1740 Carlo Antonio Testore violin) helps to make it immediately comprehensible. The Second, cast in three movements, also presents its dissonances, angular and flinty in the second movement, with a clarity of purpose that should make them easy to digest. In the tonal but dense Romance from the early 1940s, Yu produces a rich, almost viola-like sound in the lower registers, which underlines the impression the piece produces of a weighty seriousness. The Third, the last of the three on the program and, like the Seventh, cast in one movement, once again explores the combination and recombination of minute cells. The
from the late 1930s, heartfelt and searing, might be the most developed and most expressive of the tonal works on the program, and Yu and pianist Chia Chou engage in the close partnership required (it’s no simple melody and accompaniment but in every way a dialogue between equals).
The forces required for the 30-odd-minute Concerto for Violin and String Quartet, from the late 1940s, may recall Baroque violin concertos as played by similarly constituted ensembles or, more recently, Ernest Chausson’s Concert[o] for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet. But Pettersson’s procedures separate it from any of its precursors. According to Michael Kube’s notes, its premiere marked Pettersson’s first public appearance as a composer. Yu’s performance with the Leipzig String Quartet seems to have been recorded earlier than much of the rest of the program—in April 2004—and the engineers seem to have captured it in a livelier ambiance. The surging first movement gives way to an expressive Lento that embraces a wide variety of techniques, textures, and tempos, and recalls, in its middle section, the bracing passages from the development section (if it can be called that) from the first movement of Benjamin Britten’s Second String Quartet. The last movement seems at the same time to represent the highest level of activity, the most complex writing for and interactions among the instruments, and the densest textures, though these vary considerably (and imaginatively), as they do in the other movements, embracing the solemn and dirge-like as well as the pixilated. This boldly conceived and, in a way, rhapsodic work must have represented a striking debut for a hitherto unknown composer, and Kube’s notes relate that the Concerto received a favorable reception. Both soloist and quartet in MDG’s performance seem to relish Pettersson’s kaleidoscopic textures, by turns crunchy and diaphanous, and his range of
, from the suggestively haunting to the energetically exuberant, and they produce a wide variety of timbres, most of them richly resonant.
Those who admire Pettersson’s orchestral works should find in the Concerto and sonatas most interesting analogs—and, in the short pieces, a surprisingly redolent romanticism. But anyone receptive to the composer should welcome these bracing performances in all their variety.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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