“Duo W: Entendre” = KODALY: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7; HALVORSEN: Passacaglia in G Minor; ADRIEN-FRANÇOIS SERVAIS & HUBERT LÉONARD: Grand Duo de Concert; RAVEL: Sonata for Violin and Cello; SOUSA (arr. BRUCE DUKOV): The Stars and Stripes Forever, Duet for violin and cello – Sono Luminus audio-only Blu-ray+CD DSL-92171 [Distr. by Naxos], 69:40 ****:
Despite the obvious youth of the two members of Duo W, violinist Arianna Warsaw-Fan and cellist Meta Weiss, the ensemble is a decade old, the two performing together since they met at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. Conveniently enough, the duo went on to study at Julliard, where they recently received their Masters degrees. The duo number among their teachers acknowledged masters of their instruments such as violinist Cho-Liang Lin and cellist Joel Krosnick.
The notes to this recording mention that Duo W “burst onto the international music scene when their cutting edge music video, Ghosts and Flowers, went viral on the internet in the fall of 2011.” At the same time I applaud their commitment “to bringing classical music to the masses,” I’m not a music video person and so am glad for the opportunity to get to know the musicians in the more traditional format offered by this debut album. While it’s eclectic, mixing virtuoso showstoppers with the sober masterworks of Kodaly and Ravel (though Ravel manages a fairly broad smile in the Vif, avec entrain finale of his Sonata), this program is not pitched at the classical music–listening virgin. Serious music and music-making are on display here.
Getting right down to business with the great Duo that Kodaly penned at the start of World War I, the duo attack the first theme with dash and fire; the second melody—spare and desolate—comes, as always, as a shock. The second movement is supposed to be a lamenting reaction to the war, and Duo W play it with a proper sense of stunned quietude. The rondo finale returns us to the driving energy of the first movement.
The Halvorsen work, based on a theme from Handel’s harpsichord Suite in G Minor, HWV 432, is maybe the Norwegian violinist-composer’s best-known work. Originally cast for violin and viola, it’s heard just about as often played on violin and cello. There are enough virtuoso effects in it to keep the performers quite busy; Duo W, though, make it all sound easy, so be on your toes.
Adrien-François Servais, cellist, and Hubert Léonard, violinist, were celebrated Belgian virtuosos of the early nineteenth century who probably met while teaching at the Brussels Conservatoire. The Grand Duo is a joint effort by the two musicians, who took their cue, as so often with these virtuoso showpieces of the nineteenth century, from the opera house, casting their piece as a series of “arias, recitatives, and impassioned flourishes.” Obviously, the pair had a sense of humor because they constructed the work as a double set of variations on “God Save the Queen” and “London Is Out of Sorrow” (aka “Yankee Doodle”). The work starts with a serious-sounding dialogue between the two instruments, and even the subtle introduction of “God Save the Queen” manages to be stately. But by the end of the work, deep seriousness is thrown to the wind in favor of musical high jinks (how could you help it when plucking and thrumming away at “Yankee Doodle”?) and pyrotechnic display.
So for something almost completely different, we next have the Ravel Sonata, written as the composer himself acknowledged in a new style that was leaner, more objective, less atmospheric than the works of his Impressionist period. Composed as a tribute to the recently deceased Debussy, it’s a worthy one since wittingly or not, Ravel celebrates the older composer’s embrace of a more objective style in his final series of sonatas for various instruments. The work’s syncopations and instrumental slides also provide a foretaste of Ravel’s later use of popular music such as jazz and blues.
Even if I prefer my Stars and Stripes Forever with trombones, piccolo, and crashing cymbals, Bruce Dukov’s loving, slightly tongue-in-cheek treatment is an enjoyable way to end a program characterized by serious, impassioned, virtuoso musicianship from start to finish. And I’m a fan of Sono Luminus’ dual-disc productions; this seems the most sensible way to offer the obvious benefits of Blu-ray audio while still catering to the stereo-only listening public. The sound, from the Sono Luminus studio in Virginia, is invitingly warm and intimate in either format. [And the CD allows listening in your car or on a portable CD player…Ed.]