Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sarabande with Variations. Passsacaglia. Concert Caprice on Norwegian Melodies
6 Duos Concertants
Natalia Lomeiko (vn); Yuri Zhislin (va,
NAXOS 8.572522 (75:04)
Jascha Heifetz played Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia with William Primrose. Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman later took it up, and these violinistic celebrities have
helped keep the composer’s name before audiences. The Sarabande with Variations, based, like the Passacaglia, on a theme by George Frideric Handel (the Passacaglia takes the Passacaille from Handel’s Keyboard Suite No. 7 as its basis), has not received such frequent attention. It’s longer and perhaps more imposing and requires strong left hands to execute its numerous massive double-stops and chords as well as an agile right one to survey its widely varied bowings. Violinist Natalia Lomeiko and violist Yuri Zhislin take the theme a bit more quickly than audiences familiar with it from its key role in
might remember, and their subsequent tempos in the variations follow suit, although the duo brings a haunting poignancy and spectral piquancy, respectively, to the two relaxed variations near the work’s center. Despite the power they generate at the end, their approach remains generally light and virtuosic.
In the more popular Passacaglia, they adopt similarly sprightly tempos, and while they may not play with the almost self-conscious though wittily understated virtuosity of Perlman and Zukerman and may not sound so arch as do Heifetz and Primrose, they take greater advantage of the variations’ expressive opportunities. Once again they make a great deal of the more reflective central variation, and their approach to even the most straightforward variations combines flexibility and playfulness, with the concluding variation fusing brilliance with pounding rhythmic insistence. Halvorsen’s invigorating Concert Caprice on Norwegian Melodies (both Lomeiko and Zhislin playing violin) doesn’t enjoy such frequent outings as even the Sarabande, but its straightforward virtuosity (at times it sounds a bit like one of Heinrich Ernst’s variations on
The Last Rose of Summer
—of course in a setting for two rather than one violin, ostensibly rendering it more playable) should ingratiate it with audiences who enjoy violinistic figuration stretched to accommodate a generously stuffed bag of tricks (Caroline Waight’s notes suggest that the thick textures may have been suggested by the Hardanger fiddle).
By comparison with Halvorsen’s generally effervescent though occasionally darkly hued works, Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni’s Six Duos (Book 4) for violin and viola sound less subtle and surely less virtuosic, though no less straightforwardly melodious and surely no less dramatic (consider the outburst in the middle of the first movement—all of the duos fall into two—of the First Duo). Bruni, who had served as the director of the Opéra-Comique, seems to have drawn on his theatrical experiences in these duos in both their
passages—as he also seems to have done in his 25 studies for viola, which should help a violist develop a singing style as well as a basic technical command. Both Lomeiko and Zhislin produce a heavier tonal weight in these works, but they’re also attuned to their melodic elegance and their tantalizing rhythmic playfulness (as in the First Duo’s second movement). Some of the duos (as in the Second’s first movement), on the other hand, sound more earnest or, as in that work’s second movement or the introduction to the Fifth Duo’s opening movement, simply more introspective. But the tone of the Fourth Duo’s suave first movement seems to predominate. Violinist Angelo Cicillini and violist Fabrizio Ammetto included Bruni’s duos on Mondo Musica 96078, which I warmly recommended in
23:4; Lomeiko’s and Zhislin’s articulation sounds sharper and their rhythms more pointed, and the recorded sounds at once closer and cleaner, though it has plenty of the warmth radiated by Mondo Musica’s engineers.
Throughout the program, varied though it may be, Lomeiko and Zhislin produce sweetly homogeneous textures that hardly ever sound abrasive, and their ensemble retains its sense of unanimity throughout even the greatest difficulties. Naxos’s lively recorded sound presents both instrumentalists in balanced fidelity with enough reverberation to ensure warmth in addition to clarity. Enthusiastically recommended to all types of listeners.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
All of this music, with the exception of Halvorsen’s Caprice (two violins), is written for violin and viola, a remarkably full and sonorous combination. Halvorsen’s Sarabande and Passacaglia are both based on movements from Handel’s keyboard suites, and this backward reference ties them into Bruni’s duos, composed in the later 18th century. These latter works are all in two movements but follow no predictable pattern of tempo or form, which makes for an astonishingly varied series of pieces. They also sport some very catchy tunes. The performances here by the husband and wife duo of Lomeiko and Zhislin are warm and enthusiastic, well tuned and always tasteful. This is one of those discs of somewhat ephemeral repertoire that’s easy to overlook, but it really is enjoyable, and chamber music collectors will want to give it a listen.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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