ANTHEIL Complete Violin Music Vol 1 (Alessandro Fagiuoli)
Antheil composed his first three violin sonatas in 1923 24, while he was living and working in Europe. They are cut from similar cloth, with striking use of repetition and stark juxtaposition, yet each has its own distinct personality. Stravinsky’s influence is readily apparent in all three – the borrowings from The Soldier’s Tale and The Rite of Spring in the opening movement of the First are unmistakable.
Antheil tosses quotations of popular songs into the relatively concise Second Sonata, which ends very touchingly with the pianist abandoning the keyboard for drums for what sounds to me like a melancholy medieval dance. The Third, cast in a single massive movement, picks up where the lyrical conclusion of its predecessor left off.
A 24 year gap separates the Third and Fourth Sonatas, and there’s an equally sizeable stylistic shift. Antheil composed the latter in 1948 while living in Hollywood. Like the contemporaneous Fifth Symphony, it shows Antheil in thrall to Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
There have been two excellent, though incomplete, surveys of Antheil’s violin sonatas on disc (both bypass the Third). Vera Beths and Reinbert de Leeuw (Disques Montaigne) capture the music’s spiky joie de vivre while projecting a long line that seems to try to connect Antheil to his European forebears. Mark Fewer and John Novacek (Azica) are freer in tempo and more theatrical, treating the works almost as a kind of performance art. Alessandro Fagiuoli and Alessia Toffanin give us all four sonatas – this is, in fact, the recorded premiere of the Third – but their performances are far too stodgy and stiff to be recommended. Toffanin’s playing is notable for its sculptural clarity and Fagiuoli does well enough in lyrical passages, but these works require a lot more rhythmic drive and general exuberance than we’re given here.