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CD Review

Alfred Schnittke

Music for Violin and Piano

  • Sonata #1
  • A Paganini
  • Sonata #2 (Quasi Una Sonata)
  • Prélude In Memoriam
Joanna Kurkowicz, violin
Sergey Schepkin, piano
Bridge 9104
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Until I'd heard this disc, I hadn't been playing my Schnittke works for violin and piano very much. My versions seem too edgy and too thin, almost one-dimensional. Schnittke works can be difficult to perform, and in some cases, virtually impenetrable to audiences. But these fiery works have warmth and humor. In this remarkable disc, Joanna Kurkowicz and Sergey Schepkin find both. Their rendition of the twelve-tone Violin Sonata #1 veers from sardonic to tender, capped by bizarre rhumba rhythms in IV. These two musicians perform as if joined at the hip. Unlike Luba Edlina's and Rostislaw Subinsky's over-refined version (Chandos 8343), Kurkowicz and Schepkin gleefully navigate the choppy waves of this piece.

Kurkowicz's interpretation of Schnittke's A Paganini is a wondrous foray into solo virtuoso technique. Violinist Oleh Krysa may have commissioned the work (BIS CD-697), but his texture is sparse. He performs hastily, as if afraid Paganini's ghost is spying on him. Kurkowicz is fearless. She doesn't feel compelled to rush through the work. At 13:50, her version is almost three minutes slower than Krysa's and because of that; the piece breathes easily between the prestissimo flights of fancy.

Like most of Schnittke's works, the Sonata #2 (wryly subtitled "Quasi una sonata") is a struggle between dissonance and consonance. Unusual techniques abound but these performers careen through the tone clusters and microtonal brambles like dancers through dense forests. Like the photo on the booklet's cover, their interpretative light streams through the bars. In one passage, Kurkowicz's violin shimmies up and down the scale, producing a seductive squeal. At other moments, she finds intriguing ways to decode Schnittke's erratic polystylism; for example, she uses wit when modulating those cranky tempo shifts. Schepkin is the ideal accompanist, expertly handling the quirky piano solo halfway through the piece and slamming his forte chords with the right degree of surprise. Prélude in Memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich is a prickly tribute. Kurkowicz plays it in duo with herself on tape in a beguiling blend of legato and pizzicato.

Copyright © 2001, Peter Bates