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sounds of america

Consistent commissioners: the Verdehr Trio from a wide range of composers; each is a substantial, often highly enjoyable piece of music with a conservative bent – there’s nothing here for players wearing bunny suits. Kevin Puts’s Three Nocturnes are fragrant with Rachmaninov and Chopin but reside firmly in a spaced-out romanticism of the composer’s own making, rich in long melodic lines, mining in particular the clarinet’s timbre. It’s a crossover hit waiting to happen.

Roberto Sierra’s one-movement Recordando una melodía olvidada winds without pause through a narrative of moods and styles recalling film noir romances like Portrait of Jennie. Los Angeles-based Gernot Wolfgang, in a vocabulary stretching from Gershwin to Bogart, provides a nice refresher after Sierra’s heady intimacy. Lee Hoiby gave his carelessly tuneful Rock Valley Trio the informal alternative title You Verdehr and suddenly my heart stopped beating. After Hoiby ‘snipped out’ the main melody as an encore piece for other solo instruments, it was performed by bassist Allan von Schenkel, who had first introduced Hoiby to the Verdehrs.

The music can be industrious at times but that doesn’t mean it can’t be diverting, as in Stephen Freund’s giggly Triodances and Augusta Read Thomas’s boogie-woogie-ish Dancing Helix Rituals.

Vol 20 concludes with William Wallace’s nostalgic score for life rooted somewhere in the previous century, before the wars. It was commissioned by the Salt Lake Chamber Music from the septuagenarian composer, now living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The music is vast stretches of sheer beauty which, according to the engaging booklet-notes, have all sorts of personal associations.

As always with the Verdehr Trio, the playing is of a high order. Walter Verdehr and Else Ludewig-Verdehr can flash a virtuoso flair if needed, and Silvia Roederer’s wonderful tone has deepened. As always with Crystal, the simply printed liners contain each composer’s programme-notes. The recordings, made by Blue Griffin’s Sergei Kvitko, are rich and clear. Laurence Vittes

‘Paysages’ Debussy ariettes oubliées Fauré Les roses d’Ispahan. nell. après un rêve. adieu Messiaen Poèmes pour Mi Susanna Phillips sop Myra Huang pf Bridge F BrIDGE9356 (54’ • DDD • T/t)

Francophile debut disc for alabaman soprano This ambitious programme – so simple on paper, so difficult to perform – traces the lineage of French chanson from the restrained Romanticism of Fauré, with one foot still in the salon, to the mystical modernism of Messiaen, who barely had one foot remaining on earth. By opening their gambit with Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées, however, soprano Susanna Phillips (in her first solo recording) and pianist Myra Huang initially tilt in favour of the piano, with Huang proving well equipped for the music’s stylistic demands.

If Phillips lets Huang edge ahead in the Debussy, she more than compensates in Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi (1936), an early song-cycle dedicated to the composer’s first wife. Whereas Debussy was concerned primarily with expanding his harmonic palette, Messiaen shifted his entire cultural palette, fitting those now-expanded harmonies to ancient Greek rhythms and Hindu structures. On a purely technical level, the music requires from a vocalist almost pianistic precision in both pitch and rhythm, which Phillips provides with seeming ease.

The Messiaen, though heard slightly more often in its orchestral version, is still enough gramophone.co.uk of a rarity to make it the recording’s chief draw. By prefacing the Poèmes with Debussy, Messiaen’s occasionally spiky dissonances come across as an inevitable musical summit, soon followed by a pleasant descent through Fauré’s more conventional sense of vocal colour. Rarely, though, do the final four songs seem like filler; rather, they bring a musically rich, emotionally rewarding pay-off to a fine recording debut. Ken Smith

‘Violin for One’ JS Bach Partita no 2, BWV1004 – Chaconne Milstein Paganiniana Prokofiev Sonata for Two Violins, Op 56 Schnittke a Paganini Ysaÿe Sonata no 3, Op 27 no 3 Stanislav Pronin vn Sono Luminus F DSL92139 (57’ • DDD)

Solo recital from fiddler with direct link to Oistrakh Despite the big names on the marquee and an unusual over-dubbing feat, the centrepiece of Stanislav Pronin’s debut recital is Alfred Schnittke’s huge A Paganini. It was written during a period of intense pain, two years after the composer was banned from travelling outside the Soviet Union. It illustrates indirectly how the authorities were killing its creator artistically by imprisoning the violin in the same kind of dark places: cold, angry and without beauty. As Paganini often did during the dark periods of his life, Schnittke responded with an outcry of artistic agony which Pronin’s performance, by taking Schnittke’s technical challenges to their limit, captures in terrible detail.

Pronin stares equally unafraid down the gun of Bach’s D minor Chaconne. This is Bach beyond original-instrument rules. This is Bach as the composer knew it, trying out the various parts of the titanic movement until it was all done. He begins as if each note and breath in between were painful. It’s an intriguing recital: Pronin puts Milstein’s famous tour de force through its paces and finds dark corners in the sumptuous beauties of Ysaÿe. Pronin even scores by playing both parts in the Prokofiev; the out-of-body experience arouses the music’s emotional content in an attractively unsettling way.

John Newton’s sound, recorded at Ducloux Hall in Austin (Pronin has been an artistin-residence at the University of Texas), is intense, close-up but with good acoustic space. In his booklet notes Pronin attaches ‘extramusical imagery’ to the piece, and writes of ‘dancing snowflake patterns, shiny and brilliant yet quite delicate’. It’s a window on Prokofiev’s Russian soul, and Pronin’s own. Laurence Vittes

GRAMOPHONE January 2012 XIII