Saturday 8 August 2015

Ulf Wallin and Roland Pöntinen provide quite superb performances of works for violin and piano by Liszt on a new release from BIS

Violinist Ulf Wallin and pianist Roland Pöntinen have already recorded for BIS chamber works by Schoenberg and Webern and Schumann,  Schoenberg’s violin sonatas and Hindemith’s complete violin sonatas.

These two very fine Swedish musicians have come together again for a recording of Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) Works for Violin and Piano on a new release from BIS Records

BIS 2085
Charles Philippe Lafont (1781-1839) was a French violinist and composer who is largely forgotten except through Liszt’s Grand duo concertant sur la Romance de M. Lafont, Le marin (1835-37 revised 1849).

Roland Pöntinen brings a fine broad opening to the Lento assai - Animato, quasi Allegro with Ulf Wallin joining to add to the motif before taking off on his own. After a repeat of the opening, violin and piano develop the music, the violin having a rising theme before the Quasi Allegro arrives where Ulf Wallin delivers some very fine moments, both virtuosic and poetic, with Roland Pöntinen bringing an equally fine contribution.

In the second section, Theme, a lovely little melody is presented by the violin with a simple piano accompaniment before they alternate and develop the theme through a series of four variations. There is a light and vibrant Variation I Un poco piu animato with some lovely light bowing from Wallin. Variation II brings pizzicato violin over lovely rippling scales from the piano before moving through some lovely passages before Variation III: Allegretto pastorale, an attractive variation that brings a lovely tone and fine textures from the violin and a light transparent accompaniment from the piano with many moments that allow both to display their technique. There is a beautifully vibrant Variation IV: Tarantella: Presto that moves along at quite a pace with some terrific display from Wallin and extremely nimble playing from Pöntinen. When these players rush off into the Finale: Animato marziale they bring a terrific sense of assurance and forward momentum before the brilliant coda where these players show spot on precision and great panache.

Whilst it doesn’t plumb the depths, this work holds the attention with its many attractive moments, especially when played as finely as here.

Nonnenwerth is an island near Bad Honnef in the Rhine, upriver from Cologne, Germany. Liszt was staying in the area when he was inspired to write Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (1883) originally for voice and piano, then as a solo piano work before this version for violin and piano. A gentle piano motif opens the work to which the violin adds a melancholy theme which both take forward. Wallin has a lovely singing tone with Pöntinen providing such a light and fluid touch, both showing great sensitivity. The music rises in passion midway before continuing in a rather more sunny vein before descending to the melancholy coda.

Epithalam zu Eduard Remenyi's Vermahlungsfeier, S129 was written for the wedding of the violinist Eduard Reményi (1828-1898) and was first played by him, with Liszt as pianist, on the eve of his wedding.

The piano opens with a descending motif before the violin joins to take the theme forward, a lovely romantic melody before the piano draws the music up and both players bring a more resolute version of the theme. The music eases back with Wallin providing some lovely passages in the upper register of the violin over a gentle piano accompaniment before the hushed coda.

This is a work that will surely captivate many.

Le carnaval de Pesth is an arrangement for violin and piano of the composer’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 for piano. Bold piano phrases announce the opening before the violin enters. After a repeat of the opening both violin and piano take the music forward, Wallin bringing some very fine sonorities with some superb passages from Pöntinen. These two artists have such a fine ear for each other’s playing. They never bring mere virtuosic display, though there is much here, but achieve carefully judged dynamics and revealing of textures. They take the listener through many entertaining passages which are brilliantly done. Wallin’s high notes are absolutely exquisite. There are some fierce, dynamic passages brilliantly done as well as passages of rich violin textures and the most wonderful virtuosic piano playing before the brilliant coda.

This is a terrific performance all round.

Zweite Elegie was written for Lina Ramann to thank her for her article about the composer’s Première Élégie. Though written for piano, Liszt later made a version for violin and piano that is played here.

As the violin introduces a fine rising theme the piano adds occasional chords before they slowly take the music forward, the violin still bringing back the rising theme. The music moves forward with a gently undulating violin line and rippling piano accompaniment beautifully played here before leading to a gentle coda.

This is a lovely little piece, exquisitely played.

An eloquent and melodic song Oh pouquoi donc forms the basis of the Romance oubliee. The violin introduces a motif to which the piano joins as the theme is taken gently forward, these two players finding much quiet, gentle poetry here. There are some lovely little moments of exquisite beauty before the violin rises up to end gently and quietly.

Richard and Cosima Wagner stayed in Venice during the winter of 1882/83. Liszt joined them there and was inspired to write La lugubre gondola by the striking sight of funeral gondolas, a rather prophetic occurrence given that only a month after Liszt’s departure Wagner was dead. After a funeral gondola bore Wagner's remains over the Grand Canal, his body was taken to Germany where it was buried in the garden of the Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth.

Originally for piano, this version for violin and piano opens gently and quietly, with a rocking motion from the piano before the violin joins to develop the theme. Wallin brings a lovely long melodic line to many passages weaving a fine melody around the piano line in this freely developed, forward looking piece. The music moves through some wonderful passages that conjure up the most atmospheric images, rising in passion centrally before becoming dark and brooding with solemn piano chords over which the violin brings a melancholy air before slowly moving to the mournful coda.

This is without doubt a wonderful performance.

Ulf Wallin and Roland Pöntinen provide quite superb performances of these works that show another aspect of Liszt’s genius.

The recording is remarkably fine, even with BIS’ high standards. Ulf Wallin provides the interesting booklet notes. 

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