Classical CD Reviews

BLOCH: Violin Sonata No. 2 “Poeme mystique”; JANACEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano; SHOSTAKOVICH: Sonata – Midori, v./ Ozgur Aydin, p. – Onyx

Midori explores three “highly personal pieces. . .each of which [exploits its] special capacity to communicate the inner workings of a mind. . .to find solace from turmoil.”

Published on October 13, 2013

BLOCH: Violin Sonata No. 2 “Poeme mystique”; JANACEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano; SHOSTAKOVICH: Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134 – Midori, v./ Ozgur Aydin, p. – Onyx 4084, 66:55 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Recorded 19-22 August 2012, these three sonatas performed by Midori communicate for her “the anxiety 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.”

Midori opens with Ernest Bloch’s 1924 Violin Sonata No. 2, subtitled “Poeme mystique.” Bloch spoke of the work as embodying “the world as it should be: the world of which we dream.” Bloch had already depicted his angst and anguish of the First World War in his First Sonata.  In one evolving movement, his Poeme flows rhapsodically within a context of Gregorian chant – Kyrie Fons bonitatis – Debussy, and modalities that may hint at the composer’s ethnic Jewish roots. Pianist Aydin provides his own series of delicate, rather impressionistic sonorities with alternating fourths and fifths over pedal points. Midori must sing in high registers, in high hand positions, though the sensibility remains hopeful, conciliatory, exotic, and optimistically ardent. At several passionate moments the writing clearly invokes the incantatory style we know from Bloch’s Schelomo and Nigun. Midori and Aydin bring a wonderfully colored focus to the Poeme, perhaps the most striking performance we have had since the famed Heifetz inscription from the 1950s.

The Violin Sonata by Leos Janacek (1914; pub. 1922) presents to Midori a characteristic schizophrenia. A severe tension erupts almost immediately in the Con Moto as the violin part seeks out a long line that finds opposition from flurries of counter-themes and angry declamations from the keyboard.  Oddly, after some severe pulls in harmony and elastic tension, the movement resolves into an almost blissful D-flat Major. Rather an improvisation, the second movement Ballada sings lyrically, allowing the violin and the piano’s gorgeous arpeggios to harmonize. Bouncy folk melodies and sneering buzzing sounds (trills) from the violin confront each other to form the Allegretto, which provides the (Bartok-like) scherzo of the Sonata. The battling sonorities likely take their cue from Ravel’s aesthetic that the two instruments are intrinsically antagonists. The Adagio does not provide consolation, the piano attempting to sing rhapsodically and tenderly while Midori interrupts what Janacek described programmatically as the “majestic entrance of the Russian liberating army in Moravia.” If Yeats were reviewing the piece, he’d quote his tragic lament, “A terrible beauty is born.” Excellent sonics, courtesy of engineer Mark Hohn, recording at the WDR Funkhaus, Klaus von Bismarck Saal.

The 1968 Violin Sonata of Dmitri Shostakovich presents us with a dark stasis, what Midori considers “a sense of having been trapped with no way out.” Commentator Andrew Freund notes that for Midori the first movement “shimmers and it is foggy. . .the high-pitched violin is the aural equivalent of thin smoke.” We feel a Slavic sense of ruin and rubble, confronted by the poet’s over-riding irony. Pianist Aydin contributes harsh tremolos and deep bass figures that bode inevitable menace. Though the piece was meant as a sixtieth birthday gift for David Oistrakh, its basic two-part harmony in the opening Andante proceeds in the manner of a sardonic march.  The second movement Allegretto invokes both performers to realize a grotesque dance, percussive in the keyboard and raspingly manic in the violin part. Even the exquisite tone of Midori’s 1734 Guarnerius del Gesu cannot soften the bitterness of this expression. A combination of cyclic principles and the antique form of the passacaglia, the last movement Largo tries to find (Bach’s) logic in the tormented emotions of his personal world. Chorales and themes of ghostly melancholy pass by, with Midori’s playing in double-stops or stentorian declamations. When the music literally repeats the conclusion of the first movement as its own end, we may well ask Wohin? or whither the course of a flawed humanity.

—Gary Lemco

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