The Sound and the Fury: Violin Sonatas by Dvorak, Grieg, Janacek – Shea-Kim Duo – Blue Griffin

by | Feb 5, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

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The Sound and the Fury = DVORAK: Mazurek in G Major, Op. 49; GRIEG: Violin Sonata No. 3 in G Minor, Op. 45; JANACEK: Violin Sonata – Shea-Kim Duo – Blue Griffin BGR593 (11/12/21) 47:07 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Recorded 8 September 2019, this volatile violin-piano program, states the Shea-Kim Duo, “captured the personalities and color of our duo. The pieces are high energy and intense.” If Art be the reflection of Nature, then this married couple must require fire insurance at every step, since their selected works “share an intensity we feel in our own story-telling. . . .we chose pieces that encapsulate the spectrum of human emotions.”

Antonin Dvorak

Antonin Dvorak

The Duo opens with the 1879 Mazurek in G by Dvorak, a work in a folk-gypsy tenor that the publisher Simrock specifically requested as a lucrative successor to the first set of Slavonic Dances. Dvorak dedicated the work to the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. Taking the Polish mazurka as its basis, Dvorak sets a quick pace in 3/8, urging the motivic repetitions of the music forward with their stress on the second beat. The periodic interruptions of melodic beauty assure the folk element its due. The whiplash approach by violinist Brendan Shea rivals the febrile rendition standard set by Ruggiero Ricci. Pianist Kim keeps up with a velvet glove in assistance, though her legato finds even more expression in the Grieg sonata.

The 1886 Third Sonata for Violin and Piano would be the last major chamber music composition by Edvard Grieg, and it came with considerable effort and even consternation. Grieg successfully and dramatically fuses Norwegian and folk music impulses with a capacity for large forms, belying his repute as a miniaturist. Grieg served as the pianist with violinist Adolf Brodsky in the Leipzig premiere of 10 December 1887. The opening Allegro molto ed appassionato posits a potent struggle in the fateful key of C Minor, rife with extended, sweeping gestures built over oscillating 16ths in the keyboard. The moment of repose comes in the second, E Major subject, although syncopes disturb the temporary peace. Grieg exploits extreme dynamic contrasts as sequential waves of sound increase the sonority. With the Shea-Kim Duo’s attained a climactic moment, a final Presto catapults the original motif forward to a virtuoso conclusion.

Portrait of Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg

Grieg himself took pleasure in his second movement, Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza, a delicious melody first introduced by the piano solo. The tonality has moved up a major third to E Major, underscored in suspended harmony. Violin and piano blend seamlessly into a central Allegro molto, agitated and in the relative minor. Modulating into E-flat Major via the violin’s scale, the music assumes a kind of emotional plateau, with deep piano chords followed by falling octaves in the violin part. The textures dissipate into an unearthly aether, with Shea’s violin reaching high to an E in harmonics, a simple arpeggio on the tonic chord that has now become something transcendent. Grieg’s ardent love for the folk idiom reveals itself in his last movement, Allegro animato – Prestissimo. The piano supplies a light, constant flow over which the violin pounces a folk tune. Suddenly, the texture becomes heavy, pesant, with a sense of Northern gravity, although a sense of raucous wit invades the dance. A lovely cantabile section erupts, sustained in the violin over the piano’s chordal accompaniment. In harmonic variation, the two section repeat, and the Shea-Kim Duo rushes into a Prestissimo coda of virtuosic power.

The music of Leos Janacek (1854-1928) basks in his native Moldavian ethos, rife with folk idioms and nationalistic impulses. His 1922 Violin Sonata had begun just prior to the outbreak of WW I, when Moravia expected a Russian invasion that might have the salutary effect of freeing the region from the domination of the Hapsburgs. The composer noted, “I could just about hear the sound of steel clashing in my head.” Janacek’s melodic line in the opening Con moto, in liquid, modal and antique harmonies, closely follows the accents and inflections of his native language. The succeeding Ballada had not originally been part of the design of the Sonata, but Janacek incorporated its alternately haunted and lulling Moravian sensibilities for its bucolic nostalgia, tinged by percussive or hostile forces.

Portrait of Leos Janacek

Leos Janacek, 1926

The sense of spiritual antagonism returns in the Allegretto, in which the piano’s offering of a simple melody receives an angry, percussive response in the violin, perhaps confirmation of Maurice Ravel’s thesis – for his own Violin Sonata – that the two instruments remained fundamentally at polar opposites. An irreparable rift seems to have formed between the two antagonists, that even the consoling melody’s lovely sadness cannot reconcile. A mood of exhaustion has beset the piano part of the final Adagio, and the violin answers in tiny, motivic shards. Suddenly, a sweet, childlike duet arises, though invaded by raucous, intrusive moments. A long, drawn-out whirlwind pattern emerges, culminating in bells mindful of movement one, but menacing and shrill. A high tremolo in the keyboard’s right hand, con forza, may suggest invasive, Russian armies. The violin, at first impervious to any onslaught, sings mournfully until it fades away, not with a bang but with a whimper.

–Gary Lemco


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Album Cover for Sound and the Fury Shea-Kim duo


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