The Berlin Recital = SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 2; Scenes from Childhood; BARTOK: Solo Violin Sonata; Violin Sonata No. 1; KREISLER: Liebesleid; Schon Rosmarin – Gidon Kremer, violin/ Martha Argerich, piano – EMI 6 93399 2 (2 CDs), 116:48 *****:
I suppose EMI had a right to counter Anne-Sophie Mutter’s own “Berlin Recital” on DGG (2 separate discs, with Lambert Orkis) with this current one, recorded in 2006. It is skillfully put together, and plays to the performers’ tried and true strengths. These two have been long time partners, giving us any number of recordings, and it is good to hear that they are both still at the top of their games.
This concert revolves around a Schumann-Bartok axis, and it works beautifully. Argerich has of course given us several renditions of the Scenes from Childhood, and may be considered the greatest living advocate of the work. This one is fresh, clean, articulate, and extraordinarily crisp in its presentation, the various vignettes falling one upon the other with an inexorable logic and flowing consistency. Her pianism, to the disappointment of some, has always had a percussive aspect to it—well, why not, as the piano is a percussion instrument—but here it serves her particularly well, helping to delineate Schumann’s many sharp zigs and zags as he changes mood from piece to piece. The second Violin Sonata, perhaps the favorite among most people, is given a white hot reading of great intensity and passion—you can feel the sweat flying off the faces of the performers.
But it is the Bartok where the real value of this recital lies. His stubby, gypsy-like First Sonata is something that only connoisseurs have really grown to love, but this blazing reading, which features a bat-out-of-hell race to the finish in the final movement, is one of the best I have ever heard. Kremer, whose sound is one that I have never quite warmed to, shows why there is perhaps no finer interpreter of modern music for the violin living. Though his trademark tone remains raspy, a little buzzing and waspish, it works perfectly for this music, and I am sure Bartok would have preferred it to a more suave and sentimental approach. The last time I heard the Solo Violin Sonata was a few years ago in concert with Midori performing. I was, quite frankly, struggling to stay awake. She could play the thing in her sleep—and seemed to be doing just that—but her performance was devoid of any emotional impact at all. In fairness this is a tough and rather chewy work, but as Kremer demonstrates here it is possible to make sense of the work and bring forth its inherent tonality and melodic structures. This is the best reading of it I have ever heard.
To conclude we are given a couple of Kreisler bonbons, nicely done, but a little out of place in this hefty production. No matter, as this is an indispensable recording captured in excellent, if not state-of-the-art sound.
— Steven Ritter