JANÁČEK; BARTÓK Sonatas for Violin and Piano
A fascinating, satisfying programme, bringing together three composers whose work is rooted in their local cultures, absorbed to form highly personal styles. The sequence of short Kurtág pieces (alternating solos for violin and piano, apart from the Tre Pezzi) is especially effective, and the juxtaposition of humorous fancies with sharply etched poetic images is extremely stimulating.
Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner have clearly made great efforts to enter the expressive world of all the composers, and the performances show a high level of technical assurance. The account of the Janá∂ek is one of the finest I’ve heard. At his first entry, Wosner uses more pedal than most pianists, surrounding the violin melody with a halo of sound. The ‘Ballada’ creates a magical atmosphere, Koh and Wosner finding a wealth of tone colours within a restrained, delicate ambience so that the passionate outburst near the end is doubly striking. In the finale, the long lead up to the climactic melody is perfectly paced, and Jennifer Koh’s muted tone at the start imparts just the right feeling of tension.
Koh and Wosner emphasise the impressionistic qualities of the first movement of the Bartók, rather than its declamatory fervour. Here I feel Barnabás Kelemen and Zoltán Kocsis achieve a better balance: combined with the extraordinary verve and energy of Kelemen’s bowing in the finale, it would lead me to recommend them above Koh and Wosner. But I’d still rate Koh and Wosner’s performance highly; their playing, always thoughtful and imaginative, casts an individual light on this complex, endlessly absorbing work.