Friday, January 28, 2011

Recordings: Seven Sonatas for Two Violins

Seven Sonatas for Two Violins
Duo Gelland (Martin and Cecilia Gelland, Violins)
BIS-CD 1028

Seven Sonatas for Two Violins
Josef Grunfarb, Karl-Ove Mannberg, violins
Caprice CAP21401

I feel completely confident in showering Duo Gelland’s take on this piece with nothing but the highest praise. I cannot imagine a better embodiment of the special sound-world that Pettersson demands in this fascinating work. The endless technical challenges are met impeccably, and the Duo Gelland (DG) tears fearlessly into this music leaving us gasping for breath in a choking cloud of rosin, while at the same time not sounding unnecessarily abrasive. No small feat in this music.

Having said that, in terms of making a convincing musical argument for this work, the DG fall a hair behind their only competition (see below). I agree with Jed Distler’s review that the DG bring out the more extreme aspects of this work, emphasizing the large and sudden contrasts, the glissando and pizzicato effects, and generally employing rapid-ish tempos. In DG’s hands, there is a near constant sense of struggle and conflict.

My first exposure to this work was the recording discussed above, so I must admit that I was quite biased when I first heard this recording. After hearing the DG, what could be better?

Initially, I wasn’t convinced with the Grunfarb/Mannberg (GM) interpretation—it just seemed too “polite” for this piece. However, I was soon convinced that GM’s take was an equally viable alternative, and that they seem to be more concerned with making a musical argument rather than giving us a collection of virtuosic effects.

In GM’s hands the music loses a bit of conflict and struggle (although conflict and struggle are written into the music) but emerges with greater sense of clarity. For example, the opening to the 1st sonata is not played at a tentative, fragile whisper but purposefully. The slower tempo employed at the opening of the 2nd sonata allows allows the music to sound less like nervous skittering but an actual contrapuntal line.

The technically challenges of this work are also met impeccably by GM, although here you might not be left in that…cloud of rosin.

Bottom line--I think DG would make a better first impression on this piece, but GM allows you to hear a different and certainly valid take on this music. 

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