Carl Nielsen: Chamber Music Vol. 2
01 January 2009
This is an important release, containing magnificent performances of some major works. Carl Nielsen was himself a violinist, and his son-in-law, for whom the solo violin pieces were composed, was the noted Hungarian virtuoso Emil Telmányi. The combative First Violin Sonata of 1895 is arguably Nielsen's first fully mature composition, or at least the first to combine his distinctive melodic style with his ability to dramatize and characterize the interaction of the music participants. This tendency will be familiar to anyone who knows the Fourth or Fifth Symphonies, and above all the Clarinet Concerto.
The two works for solo violin are also amazing pieces, with the Prelude, Theme and Variations probably the finest work in its medium after the solo violin works of Bach. It's certainly as big as the latter's famous Chaconne, lasting an eventful 18 minutes in this performance. These two works, plus the Second Violin Sonata, also should be studied by the "period instrument" folks, as they reveal a great deal of evidence as to the use of vibrato in early 20th-century violin music, once again proving that the assertion that vibrato was a rarity at the time (except with Kreisler and his budding school) is nonsense.
For example, the Second Violin Sonata of 1912 opens "tepidly" and "senza espressione", revealing that some measure of vibrato would have been expected unless otherwise indicated. Similarly, the solo violin works are full of instances of notated vibrato in connection with difficult passages and special effects (glissandos, harmonics, pizzicatos) where it might otherwise be absent, thus asking the soloist to preserve an expressive tone wherever possible and creating a colorful degree of contrast with non-vibrato passages. These pieces also tell us what sensible violinists and music lovers have already known: that the notion of "continuous vibrato" created as a straw man by the authenticity movement is, and always has been, exaggerated nonsense. Fine artists, as a rule, vary their tone color to provide expressive variety, and in certain carefully notated examples such as these we can see that this is precisely what composers expected all along.
Happily, this is also exactly what violinists Jon Gjesme and Tue Lautrup do here. In the First sonata, Gjesme takes a bold stand against pianist Jens Elvekjaer, who holds nothing back as far as his participation is concerned, and really puts himself on an equal footing. He also realizes the "senza espressione" opening of the Second sonata without turning flat and dull. The solo works, which are real virtuoso showpieces, find an enthusiastic exponent in Tue Lautrup, who takes their technical challenges in stride with greater warmth and expressive character than the competition on BIS (there isn't much else, by the way--these pieces are practically, and scandalously, unknown). The engineering also is just about perfect--beautifully balanced in the sonatas; warmly natural and not too close in the solo violin works. A great disc!