Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonata No. 1.
Violin Sonata in e.
Efi Christodoulou (vn); Margaret Fingerhut (pn)
GUILD 7358 (59:11)
Here is an utterly charming and highly enjoyable CD of works for violin and piano by a young Greek violinist and an excellent British pianist. The liner notes don’t indicate whether or not Efi Christodoulou and Margaret Fingerhut work
together regularly or not, but if they don’t that just makes this collaboration all the more remarkable. There is a near-perfect synergy between them that simply doesn’t exist (nowadays, anyway) in one-time or occasional musical encounters, and I would be hard-pressed to say that this disc would be as successful as it is without the full musical and emotional commitment of both musicians.
The Debussy sonata leads off the disc. No question about it: Christodoulou and Fingerhut are totally into this music, in a way that only a very few others have been, and in the difficult passages of the second movement Christodoulou really flies over her fingerboard with astonishing ease of execution and remarkably smooth bowing. There is also a tremendous sense of urgency in her playing of the fast passages that grabs one’s attention and does not let it go. Not to be outdone, Fingerhut’s smoldering intensity and deep-in-the-keys touch hold up her end of the bargain remarkably well. This performance, in fact, compares very favorably to my preferred recording, Ani Kavafian and Anne-Marie McDermott on Delos 3167, and the sonics are even more spacious.
With the exception of the
, Elgar is not a composer I generally take to, but from the very first note of his sonata Christodoulou’s passion and vigor carry the day. No wispy, Victorian drawing-room playing for her; the bold attack and sensitivity to detail lift this piece into another realm, as Du Pré’s classic account of his Cello Concerto did for that piece. In the lyrical middle section of the first movement, her playing is deeply felt but not at all cloying or sentimental; the more energetic passages that follow given a bold sweep and line that fairly takes your breath away. This is playing almost of the old school, reminiscent of Menuhin or Oistrakh at their best, and the way she plays Elgar makes it sound not very far from the magnificent late-Romantic works of York Bowen. And, oh yes, Fingerhut’s contribution is far from marginal. Rather, she alternately urges Christodoulou on or is urged along by her. In the second movement, Fingerhut strokes her arpeggiated chords with the cleanliness and delicacy of a guitar, while Christodoulou plays serenely, almost playfully, above her. Even though some of the melodic progression in this central movement seems a bit predictable (in my mind, I was humming the ensuing melody before the violin got to it), their joint commitment to detail and emotional expression never flags and continues to impress. To put it a little differently, although their playing is highly musical, their performances seem to be as much if not more about mood, and pulling the listener in, as about playing the notes. There is a highly recommended version of this sonata by Anna-Liisa Bezrodny on Alba 291, which my esteemed colleague Robert Maxham raved about in
34:4, another by Marat Bisengaliev on Naxos 8572643-45, and yet another by Nigel Kennedy on Chandos 8380, but I don’t honestly feel that any of them are better than this. Equal, certainly, but not better.
As for the Sibelius Humoresques, these are the premiere recordings of the 1923 arrangements made by Karl Ekman of violin-and-string orchestra pieces. Christodoulou purposely keeps her playing light, but certainly not detached or uninteresting. Both violinist and pianist give them their all, with predictably (by now) outstanding results. This disc, to put it mildly, is a gem.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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