American Record Guide, Thomson
This is remarkable and treasurable.
Rowland and Bogdanovic between them assembled a program of great variety and yet uncanny cohesion, and then (of course) proceeded to play the pants off all of it.
The music spans perhaps 140 years, but that’s skewed by the first piece on the program, a tiny pizzicato vignette called ‘Vattendroppar’ (Water Droplets), composed by Jean Sibelius at the ripe old age of 10. The notes explain that Sibelius was enamored of all the natural world, and thanks to perfect pitch could recall bird songs as they were actually sung. The piece, utterly perfect of its kind, is only a couple of minutes long, but the innocence and blithe wonder are there to themselves be wondered at.
And then the first of many abrupt juxtapositions: the late Krzysztof Penderecki’s Ciaccona—In memoriam Giovanni Paolo II, a work the composer added to his Polish Requiem in honor of St John Paul II in 2005. The piece was for string orchestra, but here is distilled down to two parts. Except, as happens often here, the two parts always sound like more. The same goes for the next work, Peteris Vasks’s Castillo Interior, based on a vision of St Teresa of Avila, where the soul is a castle containing seven mansions, in the innermost of which abides the King of Glory. The slow, steady movement of the duo—which always sounds, miraculously, like a string quartet—is interrupted twice by strenuous, even brusque, music but returns to its seemingly effortless simulation of a bigger ensemble.
I would not have believed that this was played by only two people; it’s extraordinary.
Next is Debussy’s ‘Serenade Interrompue’, from the first book of Preludes, here arranged by Craig White, who does a dandy job of distilling it down to two parts. Skipping for a moment over the centerpiece, we then have a number of tangos and quasi-tangos. Giovanni Sollima’s ‘Heimat Terra’ is that rare piece about environmental degradation and climate change that ends, not in despair, but in joy. Marcelo Nisinman’s ‘Albträume des Todes’ (Death’s Nightmare) centers on the idea that if what we fear is death, what Death itself fears is life; so the piece is a sort of set of counter-charms in favor of joy and against despair. One of these is a Bach Invention, which seems apt.
And then there are three Piazzolla tangos—not the usual pre-arranged, pre-domesticated sort, but in fact three that I have never heard before: ‘S.V.P.’, ‘Tzigane Tango’, and ‘Preparense’. All of these are early, Paris tangos, from the 50s. (The notes contain a delightful anecdote about Piazzolla studying with Nadia Boulanger.)
And the giant hole at the center of the disc? It’s Ravel’s Duo. I remarked more than once last issue on the curious way that Ravel’s few chamber works are almost never badly played; here’s another such performance— but this one has become, for me, the best performance. I’ve accumulated (quite absent-mindedly) many performances of the Duo, including some very great ones (though, as I said, they are all great), and for a long time the one by Nigel Kennedy and Lynn Harrell has been best of all. Now I am not so sure. This new recording, slender and floating and at some points scarcely there, and (as usual for this duo) sounding paradoxically larger than it is even as it insists on the harsher elements of the score (who was it who credited, or damned, the work by saying that it has “a lyricism that spits like an angry cat”?)…
… is entirely beautiful and beautifully itself.