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Unearthing - Poulenc, Bacewicz, Arnold, Rodrigo / Duo Figer-Khanina

Release Date: 02/28/2012 
Label:  New Focus   Catalog #: 123   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Francis PoulencGrazyna BacewiczMalcolm ArnoldJoaquin Rodrigo
Performer:  Guy FigerAnna Khanina
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

POULENC Violin Sonata. BACEWICZ Violin Sonata No. 4. ARNOLD 5 Pieces for Violin & Piano Figer-Khanina Duo NEW FOCUS 123 (60:28)

& RODRIGO Sonata Pimplante.

This curious and interesting disc combines one well-known piece (the Poulenc), lesser-known works by Read more two famous composers, and one composer who is herself lesser known. The odd composer out is Gra?yna Bacewicz (1909–1969), whose fourth violin sonata was composed in 1949, a point by which Poland had escaped Nazi persecution only to be dominated by Soviet persecution. The Figer-Khanina Duo consists of violinist Guy Figer and pianist Anna Khanina, two young artists whose combined talents have plenty of fire and energy.

The Poulenc sonata is probably the best-known work on this disc, written for violinist Ginette Niveau, who died in a plane crash in 1949. It is a highly virtuosic piece, full of flashy runs and turns. Dedicated to Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the final movement in particular has a somewhat Spanish, if modernist, feel to it, particularly the unexpected slow ending. There are many other recordings to choose from here, particularly those of Arabella Steinbacher on Orfeo 739081 (praised in these pages by Robert Maxham) and my own favorite, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Anne-Marie McDermott on NSS Music 1. One of the intriguing things about Figer’s playing is his very dark, almost viola-like tone. He can apparently brighten it at will, but returns to his essentially dark sound even in the highest and flightiest passages.

Bacewicz’s sonata is in the neoclassic style. It incorporates a number of rhythms related to Polish folk music, but the almost modal harmonic treatment brings it closer in feeling to Dohnányi or Bartók. Annotator Dan Lippel mentions that Bacewicz’s later style reflected an incorporation of 12-tone technique, and wonders what her earlier work would sound like had she not been “forced” to write more accessible music, to which I counter with another question: Who cares? Is this sonata not good music as it is? Of course it is. Would it be “better,” or more interesting, if it were 12-tone? No. Can it not be enjoyed on its own terms? Certainly it can. And the duo’s performance, with great lyricism and full understanding of the idiom, does full justice to the music, particularly in the mysterious final pages of the opening movement, and an equally mysterious, smoldering Andante. To me, there are many personal statements of mood and expression in this music. Yet even the busy Scherzo has a certain questioning feel to it, with its asymmetric rhythmic cells and a theme that bounces around the scale. Honestly, I find the last movement the least interesting. Bacewicz sounds as if she were just noodling around scales to fill space. There are only four other recordings of this work currently available, but the most accessible—Joanna Kurkowicz on Chandos 10250—was chastised by Barry Brenesal in Fanfare 28:5 for her lack of color or a bold attack. There is nothing tentative about Figer’s attack here.

Malcolm Arnold’s pieces were written for Yehudi Menuhin to perform as encores during his American tour of 1964. Lippel suggests that the differing, sometimes-exotic musical forms used here, such as the raga-like second movement, reflect Menuhin’s wide-ranging musical interests. Perhaps that is so. The fifth piece, “Moto perpetuo,” has strong jazz overtones, so much so that it almost sounds like an improvised piece. Only two other recordings are around, one of them an excellent performance by the Nash Ensemble on Helios 55071, but this one has some extra zing.

Lippel again claims neoclassic roots for Rodrigo’s Sonata Pimpante, but whatever its form the music is ingenious and highly original. Among other little touches, he has the violin play in a see-saw manner for a few bars before taking off in a different direction. There are numerous key changes, impressionistic touches in the second movement, and vivacious rhythms. There are also many close minor seconds, and the liner notes mention impressionistic piano quintuplet arpeggios in the second movement. Judging from ArkivMusic, there do not seem to be other recordings of this piece currently in the catalog.

With the exception of the Bacewicz, which is a fairly moody piece, this is a vigorous and thrilling recital by a young piano-violin duo who may have a very big future ahead of them. If in my notes I have slighted Khanina’s pianism, rest assured that it is not for lack of interest, merely that Figer’s exciting, assertive playing is so often at the fore. It takes a special talent to accompany such a firebrand without losing focus, and Khanina sustains interest throughout.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Guy Figer (Violin), Anna Khanina (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 4 by Grazyna Bacewicz
Performer:  Guy Figer (Violin), Anna Khanina (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; Poland 
Pieces (5) for Violin and Piano, Op. 84 by Malcolm Arnold
Performer:  Guy Figer (Violin), Anna Khanina (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; England 
Sonata pimpante by Joaquin Rodrigo
Performer:  Guy Figer (Violin), Anna Khanina (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966; Spain 

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