Paul Makanowitzky and Noel Lee = Works of BEETHOVEN, SCHUMANN, STRAVINSKY, BRAHMS, MOZART, SCHOENBERG & MONDONVILLE for violin and piano – Makanowitzky & Vitas – MeloClassic (2 discs)

Paul Makanowitzky and Noel Lee = BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 7 in c minor, Op. 30, No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96; SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 1 in a minor, Op. 105; STRAVINSKY: Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano; Jeu des princesses avec les pommes d’or; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78; SCHOENBERG: Fantasie for Violin and Piano, Op. 47; MOZART: 6 Variations on “Helas, j’ai perdu mon amant,” K. 360;  MONDONVILLE: Violin Sonata in C Major – Paul Makanowitzky, violin/ Noel Lee, Jerzy Vitas, piano (1942) – MeloClassic MC 2025 (2 discs) 64:19, 61:21 [www.meloclassic.com] ****:

Some collectors may recall the art of Stockholm-born Paul Makanowitzky (1920-1998) from work that he recorded with Vladimir Golschmann, but this gifted Nadia Boulanger, Jacques Thibaud, and Ivan Galamian prodigy left the active concert stage in 1967 in order to pursue exclusively a life of teaching. The Doremi label brought out a set of Bach and Beethoven sonatas also performed by the current collaboration of Makanowitzky and Noel Lee (1924-2013) – with whom he made music for ten years, 1954-1964 – that complements the MeloClassics inscriptions from concerts in 1961 Ettlingen and 1963 Bruchsal. Makanowitzky maintained a controversial bow technique, weighty and prone to the long stroke, that defined his idiosyncratic sound.  The concentration on speed and power, with nuances and fluctuations controlled by a developed stamina in the bow arm, made Makanowtizky’s tonal signature unique in much the same way that Tossy Spivakovsky’s unusual approach to the bow nut also created a recognizable aural image.  Lastly, but not least, Makanowitzky embodied that self-effacing musical personality who totally subsumed his ego to the objective score before him, a manic literalist of the first order.

From the opening bars of the Beethoven C Minor Violin Sonata (23 June 1961), we confront the patented, energetic drive from both collaborators, of which a razor-sharp tone slices through Beethoven’s violin part. The fiery passagework makes us wish a Kreutzer Sonata graced these discs as well.  The sheer keyboard fluency from Lee deserves equal acknowledgement. The performance reminds us how much this work stands at the cusp of Beethoven’s transition from his Classical “first period” of development to the “drama” of the “second period” announced by the C Minor Piano Concerto. After the “symphonic” resonance of the Allegro con brio, the ensuing Adagio cantabile releases the ardent poignancy in Makanowitzky’s introspective mode. Both performers apply expressive weights judiciously throughout. The Scherzo seems to revert to a surface, pre-Classical lightness whose jarring metrics suggest deeper pools of thought. We feel that same tug of affects in the performance of the G Major Sonata, Op. 96. The rough-hewn Finale conveys Homeric wit and slashing propulsion.

The G Major Sonata (23 June 1961) projects a wiry beauty, nervously alert and piquant. Affection and restraint mark the reading of this 1812 opus, which seems to project a serenity of spirit the Kreutzer lacks entirely. The Adagio espessivo captures the idyll of Beethoven’s transport beautifully in a rare moment of airborne stasis. The little G Minor Scherzo returns to a jocular earthbound humanity.  The swaggering Poco Allegretto, tied by variations in good humor sympathetic to the prior movement, evinces an emotion that Beethoven termed aufgeknoepft to mean all severity has vanished.

The 1851 A Minor Sonata by Robert Schumann (23 June 1961) casts an entirely different affect, one of what the composer characterized as a “headstrong” quality.  The gestures of the opening movement remain terse, built on intervallic germ cells that will return later in the score. Makanowitzky’s throaty engagement with the music drives it in a passion of whimsy and elegiac regret. The middle movement Allegretto serves as an intermezzo of the kind Brahms finds attractive. The final movement Lebhaft plays as a fierce toccata in a decisive Bach style, most likely influenced by Joseph Joachim.  The demonic tempo the two collaborators insist upon does achieve heroic, if tragically obsessive, proportions.

Stravinsky’s neo-Classic 1932 Duo Concertante, the result of the composer’s encounter with violinist Samuel Dushkin, while paying homage to archaic forms, indulges Makanowitzky’s penchant (23 June 1961) for slicing, acerbic aggression. The first Eclogue, for instance, plays like an inflamed buzz saw; so, too, the Gigue.  Drone effects, double stops, triplet figures, harmonics, all glide by between the two participants with no sense of technical obstacles. Small wonder one conductor compared Stravinsky’s music to “roughage” to cleanse our musical palette. Both the Eclogue II and the final Dithyrambe proffer a lyrical side to Stravinsky that remains his most attractive element, harkening to his romantic ethos while a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov.  The other “concession” is the modern temper, the Schoenberg 1949 Phantasie, perpetually startles in its collapse of classical means into a confined space. Its grazioso section, for instance, in 9/8 meter, seems to consolidate ternary form into 12 measures.  Both expressive and declamatory, the work – and Makanowitzky’s performance of 29 March 1963 – passionately declaimed through the 12-tone technique – using two groups of six notes each – how many divergent emotions can evolve, collide, and coalesce within the composer’s challenging syntax.

The ultimate antidote to the “modernism” of Schoenberg’s compression of Classical form lies in Makanowitzky’s plaintive evocation of the Brahms “Regenlied” Violin Sonata (29 March 1963), as idiomatic and sympathetic reading as ever intoned by fellow Brahms acolytes Francescatti, Szeryng, Szigeti, and Grumiaux. Noel Lee sets the autumnal tone for the Adagio, a thoughtful series of measures that suggest what the pianist might have brought to the Brahms intermezzi.  The b minor middle section carries a resigned sadness by which Brahms meant to convey his feelings about the passing of his godson, Felix Schumann. Clara Schumann once stated that the last movement, opening in g minor – from the song Nachklang, Op. 59 – could accompany her into the next world. Perhaps this is the performance she still hears.

In 1942, aged twenty-two, Makanowitzky inscribed three items for the Voice of America in rather cloudy shellac sound. The G Minor Variations by Mozart enjoy an aristocratic sense of melodic extension. The Stravinsky piece is his answer to a certain Russian’s bumblebee. The largest of the three works, that by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville (1711-1772), offers a lovely sonata played with charming sympathy for its rococo style.

—Gary Lemco

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