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Reviews New York composers Fairouz and Hickey; Dvořák from Trio Solisti » The Scene Live highlights – page VII

JS Bach ‘Bach Unaccompanied’ Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas, BWV1001-06 Michael Antonello vn MJA Productions F b 707541548892 (135’ • DDD)

Bach from businessman and violinist Michael Antonello This is the kind of honest, decent playing that Bach must have heard in his mind when he wrote his music for solo violin: reflective, reminiscent, feeling the instrument surge under his hands as he worked out fingerings. Antonello’s playing is similarly under his hands, deeply personal in concept and execution, and devoid of formula. In the C major Fugue he chisels out of the score an energy and passion that create a hypnotic melisma. But his Adagio in the same sonata is soft as baby’s feet.

Anner Bylsma recently told me he was not ‘personally fond of chaconnes’. He called them ‘what you write when you don’t know what to write’; Antonello makes a strong case for the opposition by scaling the D minor Ciaconna’s vast mental dimensions without losing the humbling, devotional sense of physical scale on which a violin operates. Clocking in at 14'50", Antonello brings out the the linearity in the lines, then applies individual nuances of colour and expression to each.

The recordings, made in three different locations in Illinois and Minnesota, have a rough-hewn sheen to them. Antonello’s highly engaging booklet-notes are an entity unto themselves, including an essay that wanders as only a musician truly in love with his art can. They are necessarily abstruse, but not to worry: once you figure out who Ysaÿe is, the rest is easy. The playing is what counts, and that’s where Antonello shines. Laurence Vittes

Beethoven ‘A Beethoven Odyssey, Vol 1’ Piano Sonatas – No 1, Op 2 No 1; No 3, Op 2 No 3; No 23, ‘Appassionata’, Op 57 James Brawn pf MSR Classics F MS1465 (73’ • DDD)

Brawn begins Beethoven sonata ‘odyssey’ on MSR

talks to... Sean Hickey The New York composer on his newly released concertos for clarinet and cello What influenced the Cello Concerto? It was commissioned by and is dedicated to the soloist Dmitry Kouzov, whose playing I am intimately involved with, so the piece is definitely fashioned by my relationship with him. I also had Sibelius in mind in the early days of composition, and he was a particular influence in the second movement. He offers great examples of large, expansive gestures against a quick tempo and, although the Cello Concerto’s second movement is mid-tempo, I think it has an open, desolate and bleak quality that you may find in a Sibelius symphony.

How did the Iraq war affect the concerto? My intention was to make absolute music, but my country’s involvement in that war is part of our daily diet and so it ended up finding its way into the work. The percussion battery details the droning of guns and bombs, and the drums of war march in the background.

Celticism imbues the Clarinet Concerto… As a guitarist, I respond well to the traditional and communal music of the British Isles with its strong beat, especially in jigs and reels. In the third movement, snippets of traditional music appear such as ‘The Hunter’s House’ by Ed Reavy. The work is also influenced by my fascination with Copland’s more populist period, especially the way in which he introduces ‘Simple Gifts’ in Appalachian Spring. Even if you don’t know the tune, you feel like you know it. It’s part of our DNA.

You don’t play either clarinet or cello… The challenge is to be idiomatic but still create something new. People have said that, without putting a grenade into the history of the repertoire for these two instruments, I have added to it. I take that as a compliment!

The booklet-notes for pianist James Brawn’s ‘A Beethoven Odyssey, Vol 1’ suggest that this disc launches a cycle encompassing the composer’s 32 piano sonatas. Helped by an excellent instrument and vivid engineering, Brawn’s lean sonority and astringent accents bode well for the first movement of the F minor, Op 2 No 1 (with double repeats intact), except that his basic tempo gets slower as the music unfolds and the rubatos increase. While the Adagio is eloquent and well sustained, prosaic, square-toed phrasing renders the Minuet dead on arrival. Brawn generates superior note-to-note continuity in the Prestissimo (again, with all repeats). He also projects the brash spirit of Op 2 No 3’s opening Allegro con brio, if not quite with the incisive left-hand articulation of Pollini or Kovacevich.

By contrast, the Scherzo’s imitative lines sparkle with character and wit, while the Allegro assai gallops joyfully, once Brawn locks into a pulse he can sustain: he often embarks upon movements at a slightly faster pace than what ultimately transpires – the Appassionata’s finale, for example.

Listeners familiar with Friedrich Gulda’s relentlessly headlong reading of the Appassionata’s first movement (the late ’60s version reissued on Brilliant Classics) will recognise something similar in Brawn’s compulsive detailing and lack of breathing room. Brawn maintains a unified flow in the Andante con moto variations; but why does he fidget around with the theme, speeding up here, elongating there? After all, Rubinstein, Arrau and Serkin each played the theme straight,