The New York Times has praised violinist Miranda Cuckson’s “undeniable musicality,” while Gramophone has declared her “an artist to be reckoned with.” Born in Australia and educated in America, she makes her ECM New Series debut – alongside pianist Blair McMillen – with three 20th-century milestones: the Hungarian Béla Bartók’s Violin Sonata No. 2 (1922), the Russian Alfred Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No. 2 “Quasi una Sonata” (1968) and the Pole Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita for Violin and Piano (1984).
The Végh Quartet was not only one of the finest string quartets from mid-twentieth century Europe, but its style was never subjected to radical change over the years from personnel changes because the four original players remained members for 38 of the 40 years of the ensemble's existence. Its style evolved in subtle ways, of course, but its essential character endured until 1978: the quartet was Central European in its sound, with a bit more prominence given to the cello in order to build tonal qualities from the bottom upward. The Végh Quartet was best known for its cycles – two each – of the Beethoven and Bartók quartets. It also performed and recorded many of the Haydn quartets, as well as numerous other staples of the repertory by Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, and Debussy. For a group that disbanded in 1980, its recordings are still quite popular, with major efforts available in varied reissues from Music & Arts, Archipel, Naïve, and Orfeo.
First there was rhythm - pulsing, driving, primal rhythm. And a new word in musical terminology: Barbaro. As with sticks on skins, so with hammers on strings. The piano as one of the percussion family, the piano among the percussion family. The first and second concertos were written to be performed that way. But the rhythm had shape and direction, myriad accents, myriad subtleties. An informed primitivism. A Baroque primitivism. Then came the folkloric inflections chipped from the music of time: the crude and misshapen suddenly finding a singing voice. Like the simple melody - perhaps a childhood recollection - that emerges from the dogged rhythm of the First Concerto's second movement. András Schiff plays it like a defining moment - the piano reinvented as a singing instrument. His "parlando" (conversational) style is very much in Bartók's own image. But it's the balance here between the honed and unhoned, the brawn and beauty, the elegance and wit of this astonishing music that make these readings special.
Never-heard music from the mighty Keith Jarrett – performances recorded in the mid 80s, and featuring Jarrett working in a mix of jazz and classical styles that's pretty darn great! The first piece is Samuel Barber's "Piano Concerto Op 38", performed with the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies – but Jarrett's performance brings an edge and sense of air that recalls some of his own compositions for larger groups from the 70s, especially with Davie at the helm.
Over the years, Bartók’s two Violin Sonatas have enjoyed outstanding advocacy on disc, not least from Isabelle Faust and James Ehnes. This new, superbly recorded SACD release certainly matches, and in places exceeds, their white-hot intensity. Barnábas Kelemen and Zoltán Kocsis respond with almost improvisatory spontaneity to Bartók’s rhapsodic invention, yet ensure that the structural integrity of this tough and intellectually challenging music is never compromised…….Erik Levi @ classical-music.com