BARTÓK: Solo Violin Sonata. J.S. BACH: Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin. SCHNEEBERGER: Solo Violin Sonata / Dmitry Smirnov, vln / First Hand Records FHR117
I’ve never heard of violinist Dmitry Smirnov, who judging by his photos seems to be quite advanced in years. Apparently he has been a soloist in Russian with the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg and Moscow orchestras as well as making guest appearances in Lucerne, Basel, Argovia (Aargau, in Switzerland) and Gstaad, mostly out-of-the-way places as far as most international careers go.
On this disc he tackles two familiar pieces by Bartók and J.S. Bach and one rather unusual piece by composer Hansheinz Schneeberger (1926-2019), who Smirnov knew personally in his last years. According to the booklet, Schneeberger instructed him on the proper style for the music of Bartók and Veress as well as his own, emphasizing “the inherent flow of the music.” This is evident in his approach to the Bartók sonata, a fine performance that compares well with the recordings by Barnabás Kelemen (Hungaroton) and Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Signum), both of which are in my collection. Smirnov’s performance of the Bach Partita is also very good without breaking any new ground of surpassing the best recordings of the past such as the great set by Joseph Szigeti. I will say, however, that his technique in the last fast movement is outstanding.
But the prize of this collection is the Schneeberger sonata, a wonderful modern piece that combines bitonal harmonies with a lyric top line, almost like a combination of Enescu, Bartók and Shostakovich. The fast second movement, “Allegro comodo e grazioso,” is in fact about as lyrical a piece as you are likely to hear in a modern violin sonata, grateful to the ear while still playing around with the harmonic base. One might almost characterize it as a tonal movement with bitonal touches rather than the other way around; and in all of this music, Smirnov plays with passion and commitment.
A very nice CD, then, with the emphasis on the last work.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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