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Strauss, Shostakovich, Penderecki: Violin Sonatas / Haufa, Sikorski

Strauss / Haufa / Sikorski / Budnik / Galazka
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Cd Accord   Catalog #: 184   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard StraussDmitri ShostakovichKrzysztof Penderecki
Performer:  Jakub HaufaMarcin Sikorski
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Violin Sonata. SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Sonata. PENDERECKI Ciaconna for Violin and Viola Jakub Haufa (vn); Marcin Sikorski (pn); Katarzyna Budnik-Ga??zka (va) CD ACCORD 184 (65:25)

Jakub Haufa, Marcin Sikorski, and Katarzyna Budnik-Ga??zka recorded their program of Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Krzystof Penderecki in the Witold Read more Lutos?awski Concert Studios of Polish Radio on June 25-28, 2012, which seems to have provided a highly reverberant venue. In Strauss’s concerto-like Sonata, that reverberation, perhaps appropriately, gives the sense of a large space. Sikorski sounds majestic at the sonata’s opening, and Haufa strides onto the stage with a large tone that’s especially rich in the lower registers. The duo maintains the sense of the sonata’s scale throughout the first movement, though Haufa effectively underlines the lyricism of the movement’s subsidiary theme. The duo extends that sensibility into the second movement’s outer sections. Andrej Sulek’s booklet notes stress the continuity of the sonata with its predecessors in the works of Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert (noting the accompaniment of the second movement’s middle section, which resembles that composer’s piano part in Der Erlkönig ), and Robert Schumann; and the duo’s reading of the work makes those connections clear. Occasionally, listeners may detect gulps for breath in the quieter passages (in some of these more subdued passages; in addition, some listeners may find the blurring produced in the piano part by the reverberation to be at least annoying). In the finale, the duo again creates an impression of the work’s largeness of conception, with the bright spotlight Strauss has focused on them, in part by the brilliant fanfares that open the movement, returning at the end. Jascha Heifetz championed this sonata, recording it twice, in 1934 and 1954, and including it in his last recital in 1972 at which time his tone production seems to have begun to suffer in technical passages; but he still retained a vibrancy that matches Haufa’s—and Sikorski sounds less matter-of-fact than does Heifetz’s accompanist for the recital (as well as in his second recording), Brooks Smith.

Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata represents in Affekt the almost polar opposite of Strauss’s—mordant bitterness and gloomy darkness—no fanfares here. If it’s easy to hear David Oistrakh’s sinuous tone in the violin’s bleak but nuanced opening measures, Haufa reinforces that impression with the pliant (and plaintive?) tone he adopts in them. The atmosphere that the duo creates here and in the more sardonic commentary with which Shostakovich underlies his musical text, helps subsume the movement’s partially dodecaphonic harmonies under the composer’s unmistakable rubric (even if listeners still hear the wind-in-the-graveyard desolation that Sergei Prokofiev noted in his own First Violin Sonata). The duo’s pessimistic rhetoric carries the listener through even the darkest passages. The second movement, a biting scherzo, can sound simply sharp-edged, but, once again, the duo’s firm command of its rhetoric helps to keep the musical message riding well above the rather angular language in which it’s expressed. In the third movement, a passacaglia (as in the third movement of the composer’s First Violin Concerto, also written for Oistrakh), the violin states the theme alone pizzicato, and the variations that follow provide a steady flow of invention—much of it highly accessible—of which the performers take expressive advantage, varying their approach chameleon-like to its shifting moods and textures. The duo faces authoritative challenge from Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter. In fact, when I reviewed Ilya Grubert’s recording of the sonata (Channel Classics 16398, Fanfare 26:5), it fell indeed short of Oistrakh’s version (Mobile Fidelity 909, presumably no longer available)—and so did a recording by Oistrakh’s student, Lydia Mordkovich (Chandos 8988). (Another of Oistrakh’s students, Oleg Kagan recorded the work live in 1985, reviewed by Peter J. Rabinowitz, Melodiya 10-00095, Fanfare 16:1—rereleased on Live Classics 183) with a violence arguably even more shocking than Oistrakh’s. But Haufa sounds more visionary than violent; he and Sikorski make the work both intelligible and, mirabile dictu , nearly accessible.

The Ciaccona in memory of Pope John Paul II receives its premiere recording in this recital, according to the notes, with violist Budnik-Ga??zka joining Haufa in this version for solo violin and viola (according to Sulek’s notes, in an incarnation as a string piece, it formed an interlude between the Sanctus and Agnus Dei of The Polish Requiem ). It’s written in a highly accessible, nearly tonal, style, combining the two instruments in such a way as to form rich sonorities that give evidence of the composer’s sharp ear for timbres. The duo makes these sonorities merely the background for a resonant emotional collaboration. The work should prove as popular with string players as with audiences if other duos can match the expressivity and tonal warmth of this one.

For the appeal of its repertoire (especially Penderecki’s work, but the others as well) and the general eloquence of its readings (if not for the recorded sound), Haufa’s program deserves a place in collections that already include alternative performances of the first two works. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat major, Op. 18 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Jakub Haufa (Violin), Marcin Sikorski (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Germany 
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Jakub Haufa (Violin), Marcin Sikorski (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; USSR 
Ciaccona in memoriam John Paul II by Krzysztof Penderecki
Performer:  Jakub Haufa (Violin)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2005 

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