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The Devil’s Trill
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in E minor, K.304 (1778) [11:41]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata NO.1 in G major, Op.78 (1879) [25:48]
Alois HÁBA (1893-1973)
Hudba – Music in Quarter-Tones for Violin Solo, Op.9B (1922) [17:02]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Violin Sonata in G minor “The Devil’s Trill” (1713/1740?) arr. Fritz Kreisler [16:28]
Dan Auerbach (violin)
Joshua Pierce (piano)
rec. 2017, Springer Concert Hall, Center for the Arts, College of Staten Island, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS1618 [70:59]

Interesting programming imperatives at work here: four violin sonatas, one of which is for solo violin, covering the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and twentieth-century avant-garde. Eager eyes, however, may well flit across to what is stated to be the world premiere recording of Alois Hába’s Hudba, music in quarter-tones composed in 1922 and decide that this is the main focus of interest.

Hába tends to be more read about than listened so this is a valuable opportunity to get to grips with 17 minutes of his barline-less, microtonal solo work. At this stage Hába had long since left Novák’s tutelage in Prague; indeed his most recent teacher had been Schreker. He had previously composed a quarter-tone work in 1920, the Second Quartet, so the solo sonata was by no means his first experiment in this form though for so innovative a work, the sonata is cast in four formally traditional movements. Its melancholy and razory intensities drive the expressivity component skyward. The slow movement is especially compelling, the melody line being ratcheted ever upwards, but the finale is irradiated by rhythmic vivacity and tremulous power too. Not much in this seems to reflect the Moravian folkloric music of his youth and Bartók incorporated such elements more successfully and specifically in the context of his own works. But it’s still excellent news that we can at last hear this solo sonata played with convincing confidence by Dan Auerbach.

With his sonata partner Joshua Pierce, Auerbach plays the conventional quotient of the programme with a sure ear for ensemble virtues. He vests the opening of Tartini’s Devil’s Trill with an intimate, gentle patina, withdrawing tone conspicuously at points. It’s a reading marked by introspection, avoidance of a big tone and resolutely chamber-sized. He avoids the struttingly virtuosic, for its own sake, but there are some unconvincing moments in the cadenza. Innocence and gentleness of phrasing are also part of their reading of the Mozart. It’s not smothered in interpretative hesitance and emerges all the better for it. Once again one feels Auerbach holding back on tone for reasons of stylistic appropriateness. It’s in the Brahms that he vests a significantly greater range of tone colours on the music and his vibrato revs up several gears. Very occasionally I felt the phrasal tension sag and this is of a piece, interpretatively, with the other sonatas – rather small-scaled, introverted, and avoiding showy gestures.

The recording has been well judged as have the fine booklet notes by Philip Borg-Wheeler. Auerbach is an expert exponent of microtonal music, which makes his Hába valuable.
Jonathan Woolf

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