Notes and Editorial Reviews
Chuanyun Li (vn); Robert Koenig (pn)
HÄNSSLER 98.278 (67:08)
Banjo and Fiddle.
La ronde des lutins.
Orfeo ed Euridice:
Introduction and Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento.”
It Ain’t Necessarily So.
In how many programs does the obligatory sonata follow the encores (the jewel box lists the sonata first)? Chuanyun Li mixes simple and expressive numbers like Elgar’s
with virtuoso showstoppers like Paganini’s
Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento,”
Dance of the Goblins
, and Sarasate’s
as an appetizer for the main course, Strauss’s concerto-like Violin Sonata. Those not familiar with Li from his playing on the soundtrack for the Chinese-produced movie,
(and his appearance in the movie as a student emerging into the professional world playing Vieuxtemps’s Fifth Concerto), or from his video recordings produced by Bein and Fushi (both in a Ruggiero Ricci lesson and as a participant in a festival of Chinese violin music), should be struck in Hänssler’s issue of a 1999 recording he made at the Cincinnati Conservatory, by his soaring tone, his brilliant technical command, and his grasp of the many styles he’s assembled in his program. Idiomatic Elgar rubs shoulders with Slavonic Dvo?ák, darkly glowing Glazunov, and steamy Gershwin. Bazzini’s
Ronde des lutins
might as well have been retired for decades after Heifetz’s first recording of it in 1917; later recordings may have included all the notes but not the sizzle. Some, even as recent as Gil Shaham’s (24:3), seemed almost somber in comparison to the young Heifetz’s. Those who might not have heard that earlier recording might come to the end of Li’s with a very similar impression of overwhelming virtuosity coupled with heroic dash and élan. For example, at the section of notes repeated on each of four strings, some violinists simply struggle to play solidly, while Li manages to add tangy nuances. Glazunov’s Intermezzo offers many opportunities for portamentos, and violinists of earlier generations would have taken them with relish. So does Li, but never to the detriment of the music’s lyrical flow, which he builds in waves to a powerful climax. When the music settles to its quiet conclusion, he draws a pure tone from both strings in the final double-stops, a feat perhaps as difficult as the left-hand pizzicato in Bazzini’s
. Li introduces stronger accents than Sarasate did into the
, and he adds some twangy timbral graces of his own. His performance goes beyond the heavier Russian style that became common in readings of the mercurial Sarasate; but, taken on its own terms, it’s a heady sprint to the finish. Heifetz and Milstein both played Gluck’s Melody, which Fritz Kreisler had arranged for violin and piano. Li’s performance matches theirs in elegance and warmth, and his special personal touches make it his own rather than a copy of theirs. Paganini’s
fare well in Li’s reading, sweetly lyrical in the manner of Rossini as devilish in the style of Locatelli. His gift for sumptuous melody alternates in this violinist’s compendium with his knack for brash pyrotechnics (which he fires off with surprising sweetness), and those mount to the conclusion in an unstoppable juggernaut.
Strauss’s early Sonata has been taken almost as a Concerto for Violin and Piano, and Heifetz (who reputedly tried to commission such a Concerto from Prokofiev) seemed always on the lookout for pieces he could play that way, like this one, Saint-Saëns’s First Sonata in D Minor, and Respighi’s. Memory of Heifetz remains strong, but Li manages to create his own forceful identity from the bold first movement. Arguably the slow movement of the Sonata makes a more glowing musical statement than does the slow movement of the (also youthful) Violin Concerto, and Li warms not only to its initial sentiment but also to its more agitated central section. He also seems comfortably at home in the finale’s broad rhetoric.
Here’s an old-fashioned violin recital with a Sonata thrown in to please everyone (the reverse of the usual procedure), and only those with almost unreasonably strong preferences should complain. It’s individual, brilliant, and musically both protean and probing—a substantial accomplishment for anyone, and certainly so for a 19-year-old. As Mischa Elman supposedly remarked to his accompanist, Joseph Seiger, when he heard Michael Rabin’s recording of Wieniawski’s First Concerto, that’s the way the violin should be played. Robert Koenig remains an insightful supporter through the many changes in style, and the lifelike recorded sound makes both players almost bodily present. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Salut d'amour, Op. 12 by Sir Edward Elgar
Robert Koenig (Piano),
Li Chuanyun (Violin)
Written: 1888/1889; England
Banjo and Fiddle by William Kroll
Li Chuanyun (Violin),
Robert Koenig (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
La ronde des lutins, Op. 25 by Antonio Bazzini
Li Chuanyun (Violin),
Robert Koenig (Piano)
Written: by 1847; Italy
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