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Friedrich CERHA (b.1926)
Violin Music
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 (1946-47) [9:15]
Capriccio (1950) [3:00]
Meditation (1948/51) [4:50]
Altes Lied (1948/51) [5:35]
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 (1954) [6:25]
Deux éclats en réflexion (1956) [6:30]
Formation et solution (1956-57) [8:45]
Sechs Stücke für Violine Solo (1997) [18:30]
Rhapsodie pour violon et piano (2001) [8:00]
Ernst Kovacic (violin)
Mathilde Hoursiangou (piano)
rec. September 2004, Wiener Funkhaus, Vienna
TOCCATA TOCC 0199 [71:02]

These performances were recorded getting on for a decade ago appropriately enough in Vienna, as they chart the violin music of the ‘doyen of Austrian composers’, Friedrich Cerha, who was born in the city in 1926. It’s apposite that focus should fall on his violin music as he was himself a fine exponent of the instrument and he remains an admirer of his old teacher, the great but contentious Czech fiddler, Váša Příhoda.
 
The music for solo violin and violin and piano ranges from 1946-47 to 2001. The earliest work is the Violin Sonata No.1 which reveals a taut Hindemith-like classicism, clean-limbed and vivid and brief. Cerha professes himself somewhat astonished at his slow movement - to be exact he calls the movement itself ‘astonishing’ but he does so in the spirit of reminiscent pride. In its elegiac quality, shorn of obvious tonal centres, it is indeed rather remarkable. In the Capriccio of 1950 he alludes tangentially to another composer of interest, Darius Milhaud, whose Création du Monde was clearly a favoured work of Cerha’s at the time. To me, though, post-Regerian writing and the extrovert violin solo repertoire are the more pressing influences.
 
Meditation is a ghostly cantabile with plenty of lyricism, whilst the Altes Lied, composed at the same time, enshrines a keening Ukrainian element allied to faster, more mobile material. In 1954 Cerha completed his Third Violin Sonata and it’s even more compact than the First, lasting six and half minutes in this performance. Here Cerha employs his personalised use of 12-tone technique, though his natural gift for lyricism invariably also emerges. As the sonata develops its more doctrinaire and militant aspects seem to strip away and very much more communicative writing emerges, especially in the brisk and angular finale. Cerha knows better than to outstay his welcome, and he has a sure ear for the natural length of a movement. Both Ernst Kovacic and Mathilde Hoursiangou play close attention to detail and with ferocious dedication.
 
Deux éclats en reflexion dates from 1956 and here Cerha embraces more astringent and avant-garde techniques. The result is jagged, abrupt, and gestural, with lots of long decay from the piano and aggressive pizzicati from the fiddle. If anything the second of the two reflections is even more pungent. At around the same time Formation et solution embodies a similar aesthetic, full of effects, and simmering and booming piano afterburners. It’s something of a relief to move forward forty years to the more Berg-like refractions of the Sechs Stücke für Violine Solo. The set was written for Ernst Kovacic who plays them with splendid devotion, finely attuned to every glissando, every harmonic, every spatial and wave-like effect - and indeed the more inscrutable, reflective moments too. To finish there is the Rhapsodie pour violon et piano, a reversion to a French language title not, as in the case of the two earlier pieces (one feels), for reasons of modernist pretension, but for the simple reason that it was written for the Long-Thibaud Violin Competition in 2001.It’s a multi-faceted, organic work that gives the player much to do and fulfils its brief very well.
 
It ends a recital of many ups, and just a few downs. Each piece, though, faithfully charts Cerha’s course from youth through Reger, Hindemith, and Darmstadt and on to a more concise, less externalised aesthetic. It’s a powerful portfolio of works that sings with the memories of violinists and composers Cerha has encountered and assimilated into this valuable sheaf of compositions.
 
Jonathan Woolf