ENESCU: Violin Sonata No. 3, “Dans le caractère populaire Roumain.” RAVEL: Violin Sonata in G. Tzigane. SKALKOTTAS: Little Suites Nos. 1 & 2 / Jonian-Ilias Kadesha, violinist; Nicholas Rimmer, pianist / Avi 8553640
Here’s a nice program of violin-piano works from three composers writing at different times in the 20th century. It’s always a pleasure to visit, or revisit, music composed in a century in which my life intersected, rather than the same old-timey stuff we hear over and over and over again.
But Jonian-Ilias Kadesha, born in 1992, is a young violinist with an appetite for music based on European folk themes, which is fine by me. His partner, Nicholas Rimmer, is a British pianist who studied music in Hannover, Germany, rounding off his training with lessons from Wolfram Rieger and the Alban Berg Quartet.
First up is Enescu’s sprightly third violin sonata, subtitled “In the popular Rumanian character.” Kadesha plays this with a very light, skimming vibrato, much in the character of folk fiddlers, creating an evocative atmosphere. Rimmer is right with him, nudging the music along in its quirky Rumanian way; as a duo, they are perfectly matched in temperament. The only small caveat I had was that, in soft passages, Kadesha doesn’t always achieve a muted quiet tone, but rather maintains his brightness…a small thing, surely, but noticeable, although he does a good job of playing the edgy, slightly-out-of-tune high soft passages in the second movement. And clearly, he has a good grasp on how to play the remainder of the movement, with its edgy and sometimes vibrato-laden folk-ish tunes. In the lively third movement he is also quite fine.
The Ravel sonata in G (actually, his No. 2) is an unusual piece, with the second movement strongly influenced by the blues and the third influenced by American jazz of the 1920s. Unlike most European composers who tried to write in a “jazz” style, Ravel actually traveled to America and heard the real thing first-hand, in Chicago in 1928. The first movement, however, is folk-influenced, and the duo of Kadesha and Rimmer grasp this concept thoroughly. Their keen sensitivity to dynamic levels and phrasing pays dividends in their performance here. Unfortunately, Rimmer’s rhythm is woodblock stiff in the last two movements, which inhibits Kadesha’s looseness of swing. For a good example of how it should be played, listen to violinist Arabella Steinbacher with the excellent, loose-rhythmed pianist Robert Kulek on Orfeo (Steinbacher & Kulek are even looser in the more formal, less jazzy first movement.)
The music of Nikos Skalkottas was entirely new to me. One of Schoenberg’s prize pupils, he lived a fairly charmed life until 1931, but then encountered poverty and a lack of performance venues. Returning to Greece, he suffered from “composer’s block” until later in life when he streamlined his style. The two Little Suites here date from this later period, and they may be “simpler” but are by no means simple! On the contrary, the first one seems to be written in two different keys simultaneously with a rhythm that plays backwards instead of forwards, and here both musicians have a firm grasp on this tricky and challenging music. Only in the third movement of the first suite does the rhythm finally straighten out, but the harmonies are still on a knife’s edge. In the second suite, Skalkottas maintains his edgy harmonies and rhythm, particularly in the first movement where he tosses in a few pauses just to throw the listener off a bit more. Although the second movement here is a shade lyrical, it is also rather eerie in feeling, whereas the third movement—a brief, slashing piece lasting just under 2 ½ minutes—reverts to the bitonal feeling of the first suite, albeit with a more regular and driving rhythm. There’s an almost Ives-ian moment when it sounds as if he’s quoting “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” for a bar ot two. It drives off a cliff for the ending.
The recital wraps up with Ravel’s Tzigane, and here again its Gypsy connotations play into the talented hands of Kadesha very well. He performs with particular fire and verve, moving through the music with insouciance, and Rimmer manages to keep up with him. Written for Hungarian-born British violinist Jelly d’Arányi, it is a bravura piece (something quite rare for Ravel) which the composer later arranged for violin and orchestra.
All in all, then, a very fine recital but for the last two movements of the Ravel.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
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