Bohuslav Martinů: Duo for Violin and Cello n° 1, H. 157
Maurice Ravel: Sonate pour Violon et Violoncelle
Zoltán Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, Opus 7
Deborah Wong (Violin), Adam Grabois (Cello)
Recorded at St. Margaret’s Hall of Holliswood, New York (February-April 2004) – 51'07
Reflex editions RRE 0712-2
A most unusual offering but far far more interesting that such a skeletal ensemble would promise. Yet I must confess not daring to open the recording for awhile, playing neither instrument, fearful of sterility, afraid that music for a mere violin and cello would be akin to an academic exercise. The fears were unfounded, because the three composers here, almost contemporaries, never hesitated in using their instruments at their most colorful. None of them needed body-tapping or above-bridge pizzicatos. This trio understood the amazing colors for which their instruments were invented.
Part of the fascination of the three (two of them new to me) came from the unusual philosophical program notes by composer John Halle. No mere “describer”, he gives an introduction somewhat in the style of conductor Leon Botstein, encompassing political history, aesthetics and the idiosyncratic moods of the composer. The Kodály Duo was a fascinating example here. Once visiting his house in Budapest, I was astounded at his multi-lingual library (unlike Bartók’s rather spare rooms). Mr. Halle mentions that Kodaly’s training “was not primarily as a musician but as a linguist” That was new to me, but certainly explained in this intense piece the “spoken” sections Janáček style. Even more, for those who love Kodaly’s Sonata for Solo Cello, this energetic piece was even more open, more immediately accessible.
The opening Martinů could have been one of the many thousands of unknown works of this most prolific composer. When he was good (as in the piano concertos and Julietta and the string quartets, he was one of the great 20h Century composers, but there was a lot of dross amidst the gold. Yet one can always spot that Martinů had the most unselfconscious feeling for the Baroque, and the canons for both instruments give that “Bach-to-the-future” feeling. At the same time Martinů loved his thick chords, and the instruments played those chords with great piquancy. The second movement here is simply the composer at his most playful
The Ravel is best known for good reason. Ravel’s orchestral works have the delicacy of chamber music even at their most massive. His chamber music thus is especially sensitive, but also fun. I have heard the opening of the work played with more energy (Nigel Kennedy, for instance), but in the très vif movement, the two instruments bounce their spicatti back and forth like soccer stars, ending off with an almost violent climax
Both artists here are recognized artists on the New York musical scene. Deborah Wong . has earned plaudits as part of the Atlantic String Quartet and the prestigious Washington Square Contemporary Music Ensemble, as well as a featured violinist with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Adam . Grabois has had an innovative career in cello, with his own recordings of Bach, on-stage cello-playing with Baryshnikov. I had first encountered him in a concert which had the churzpah to perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the tiny Musica Sacra orchestra. The orchestra carried on as well as possible, and his solo playing was superb, but this was the equivalent of arranging down Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand for harmonica and ukulele
Mr. Grabois is also the founder of Reflex Editions, and this recording, which came out earlier this year, adds not only to his company and his reputation, but the wonderful music of the three composers. They obviously play beautifully together, but it was Mr. Grabois’ changing tone qualities which were most impressive. In the most playful movements (like the ends of the Martinů and Ravel), his was almost an antic argument. Ms. Wong shared the same playful joy in her playing. The result is a recording of music which far transcends unusual music. It is a music of exuberance and joy.