BARTÓK: The Violin Sonatas – Adrian Adlam, v./ Thomas Hell, p. – Tacet Eigen Art (2 CDs)

by | Jan 2, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

BARTÓK: The Violin Sonatas – Adrian Adlam, violin/ Thomas Hell, piano – Tacet Eigen Art 10400 (2 CDs), 83:10 [Dist. by Naxos] ***1/2:
This set of Béla Bartók’s two sonatas for violin and piano, the Andante for violin and piano and the Sonata for solo violin covers some of the composer’s essential chamber music, but it is not for the fainthearted.
The two violin and piano sonatas were written in 1921 and 1922 for the young Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi. They were premiered in London by Bartók (who was a world-class pianist) and d’Arányi. In these two works Bartók reflected his ethnomusicalogical interests. He collected and studied the true Hungarian folk music and that of Romania and North Africa and incorporated this peasant music into his compositions.
However, don’t think of nice melodic dancing tunes. This is raw, dissonant, violent and urgent music which takes some getting used to. But once you do get into it, what emerges are remarkable statements of great complexity, which, if your ears dig deep enough, show elements of folk music and  various folkloric styles.
The solo Sonata was composed by Bartók in 1944 on commission from the American violinist Yehudi Menuhin. It is also fiendishly difficult both to play and to hear. But it does show, at times, its antecedents in J.S. Bach.
The short Andante was written for d’Arányi’s sister, after an afternoon spent in the d’Arányi home in November 1902. Compared with the other selections on these discs, this is very laid back music. Bartók was a student at that time.
What of the performances by Adlam and Hell? They are well executed, more smoothed over than the barbaric style other performers provide. Take Menuhin’s second (1957) recording of the solo Sonata (for EMI and still available as 5 74799 2). It is hair-raising and explosive. With Adlam, all the notes are there, but not the gut-wrenching punch Menuhin gives it.  Bartók was dead a year later, after a fairly miserable existence and illness in the U.S.
These performances collected as a set are well worth acquiring, if you are looking for this grouping. They are also a very good choice. The sound (this is a co-production with Deutschlandradio Kultur) is splendidly realistic, but not overpowering.
British Violinist Adlam, also a conductor, has a distinguished career. German pianist Hell hails from Hamburg and also has impressive credentials. Google Adlam or Hell if you would like some previews of this music (but not necessarily the same performances). Adding to the appreciation and understanding of the music, the notes written by the performers are top-notch.  Both musicians deserve congratulations for putting together this difficult, but formidable collection.
—Zan Furtwangler