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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Violin Sonata No. 2 Poème mystique (1924) [19:54]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Violin Sonata (1922) [16:04]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Sonata (1968) [30:57]
Midori (violin)
Özgür Aydin (piano)
rec. 19-22 August 2012, WDR Funkhaus, Klaus von Bismarck Saal
ONYX 4084 [66:55]

Having played and recorded the major Romantic violin sonatas and concertos, Midori traverses a different path with this disc of less well-known twentieth century violin sonatas. She elucidates her choice by saying that “these are three works that interweave the anxieties of the modern world condition with much hope for the future. In the end the music fills us with a great feeling of warmth and compassion while not shying away from what must be confronted.”One can discern a logical thread running throughout. The composers here were extricating themselves from the shackles of late-Romanticism and its reliance on the Germanic template. They looked rather to their own cultures to find personal expression. It is this highly individualistic stance which attracted the violinist to these works, whose narrative affirms a new age.
 
Ernest Bloch had a particular penchant for solo string music; indeed he had studied the violin with none other than the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. His Sonata No 2 Poème mystique dates from 1924. Cast in a single movement, the sonata is rhapsodic and visionary in form. Bloch employs a more compact style than in the First Sonata, and the musical ideas are condensed into one organic entity. As in many of his other compositions, a Jewish consciousness suffuses the music. Midori’s purity of tone and immaculate intonation set the tone for what is to follow. Both violinist and pianist sustain the improvisatory narrative throughout, and have the range of colour and expression required to project a canvas such as this. There is an other-worldliness and deep spirituality too, echoing Bloch’s own sentiments “the world as it should be: the world of which we dream”.
 
By all accounts, the Janáček Violin Sonata underwent a lengthy gestation process. Begun in 1914, it was only published in 1922, and then only after several revisions. It is well represented on disc and is being taken up by violinists as well as being programmed more regularly. A four movement work, Midori and Aydin successfully highlight the contrasts between the movements. There is drama and passion in the first movement. The tension generated is palpable. The dialogue established between the players underpins the improvisatory character of the music, which you feel is being created on the wing. The second movement Ballada, in contrast, is marked by tenderness, eloquence and a pervading nostalgia. After a well-characterized scherzo-like movement, the sonata ends with a rhapsodic adagio, where tensions never seem to be assuaged or resolved.
 
The thread of the human condition is picked up again in Shostakovich’s only violin sonata. Composed in 1968, it was dedicated to his great friend, David Oistrakh. It was given its premiere the following year by Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter. An air of pessimism, despondency and gloom permeates the work, with Shostakovich, nearing the end of his life, pondering old age and death. Throughout, tone rows straddle the work and assert a place in the sonata, almost in defiance of the Soviet authorities, who condemned such practices. Midori and Aydin relate the anguish and melancholy of the dark, autumnal landscape of the first movement. The second movement, a kind of scherzo, is characterized by violent, brusque declamation. The tortuous anguish and sheer visceral energy conveyed by these two players is further emphasized by the pulsating rhythmic drive which underlies this deeply unsettling music. The percussive piano chords form a backdrop to the violin’s stabbing interjections. The final movement is in the form of a passacaglia. It almost depicts a composer coming to terms with his fate and the tragedy of life.
 
These are very fine performances by two players who not only have an affinity for this repertoire, but play with a shared purpose. They listen to each other and appear to be on the same wavelength, delivering performances which are compelling and captivating. The sound quality and balance between the two instruments could not have been bettered. With excellent booklet notes in English, German and French, this recording is marked with distinction.
 
Stephen Greenbank