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Vilde Frang Goes Solo

available at Amazon
Grieg / Bartók / R. Strauss, Sonatas,
V. Frang, M. Lifits

(released on March 29, 2011)
EMI 9 47639 2 | 78'49"
After participating in an EMI disc devoted to the obscure chamber music corners of Chopin's output (and a disc of Sibelius and Prokofiev concertos, not reviewed), Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang is back with this recital of violin sonatas. As noted of Frang before (live), her lean and clean tone bears little resemblance to the brash energy of her mentor, Anne-Sophie Mutter. Grieg's first violin sonata (op. 1, from 1865) is likely the piece most familiar to the average listener. Later in life, Grieg described his three violin sonatas as a sort of autobiographical trilogy, characterizing the "three periods of my evolution," and Frang gives the first sonata the sense of musical questing and youthful impetuosity that the composer ascribed to it, with moments of lonely reverie, too. Pianist Michail Lifits, born in Uzbekistan, helps steady Frang's somewhat erratic pace in the hectic last movement and overall provides a colorful but solid frame at the piano.

Yehudi Menuhin commissioned Bartók's sonata for solo violin (Sz. 117, BB 124) in the 1940s, and the legendary violinist later negotiated some changes removing passages in quarter tones and other difficulties, alterations that were approved by the composer. In the work Bartok was inspired by Bach's unaccompanied violin pieces in the compositional processes evoked in the Fuga and Ciacona movements, and Menuhin's plan from the start was to program the work with Bach, as was done at the premiere. The chromaticism and folk inspiration of the last two movements are pure Bartók, though, and Frang is forceful and confident but not brutal to the point of ugliness, even in the weirder plucked and sliding effects. Frang gives beauty and individuality to the contrapuntal voices of the double-stop passages, making the Bartók the best part of this disc. Richard Strauss wrote his violin sonata in E-flat, op. 18, in the late 1880s as he was courting his wife, Pauline. As might be expected the piece is appropriately tender and lyrical, especially the middle movement ("Improvisation"), a song without words played with refined charm by Frang. The outer fast movements show Strauss's early debt to Schumann and Brahms in their fairly traditional sonata-allegro forms. As noted by scholars Heiner Wajemann and R. Larry Todd, even though Strauss did not speak highly of Brahms, a critical opinion that only became heightened later in life, Strauss's early chamber music pieces reveal his influence.

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