Familiar and Not So Familiar
The MHS Review 239 Vol.3, no. 5 • May 7, 1979
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David M. Greene
Veracini provides each sonata with a number of movements, and suggests that the performer choose only those he sees fit to play. So much for the composer's intentions.
As I may have mentioned, I am being supplied with cassettes of the recordings I'm supposed to talk about (and sometimes do). These are not the cassettes offered you, but ones specially made by our A & R people, who are thereby forced to listen to the product. (No, I'm only joking, crassly! I am really deeply grateful, after all these years of imagining what the records must sound like.) The cassette under consideration included a fringe benefit that darned near gave me a heart-attack: wrapped in my headphones, I was typing away while Mr. Markov wound up the Veracini sonata. There was a pause; then a masculine voice bellowed in my ear, ''Okay we're rolling, This is the first movement again, take twenty-three!'' I'm reasonably sure the finished offering won't have this sort of thing--though it provides, shall we say? an ambience--but just in case, I want you to be ready.
Let's begin with the Unfamiliar. The typed guidesheet lists Markov as one of the composers. The cassette does not; instead it has ''Gersh: Rhap." Putting two and two together, I assumed I would hear the Rhap. in B. as arranged by the performer. Instead, after a Gershwinesque intro of no immediately recognizable profile, I found myself listening to an attractive potpourri from Porgy and Bess, generally in the manner of Sarasate's Carmen Fantasia. Then there was a work designated on both sources simply as '' Khatchaturian. '' That told me nothing, though I suppose it could have been one of those musical portraits (such as Virgil Thomson used to do) of the late composer of the Sabre Dance. But since the music did not sound much as I recalled Khatchaturian looking, I called the source of the cassette and discovered the piece was called Song-Poem; what was more interesting was the information that it was written for the performer, once Khatchaturian' s pupil.
Is Cyril Scott's Lotus Land unfamiliar these days? Along with a piano Danse negre and a song, Lullaby, it used to be about all the poor man was known by. Scott, something of an oddball, but a talented and serious composer who died in 1970 at the age of ninety-one, would have preferred to have been remembered by his operas and symphonies and concerti (the two for piano have recently been recorded by the English Lyrita people). Lotus Land, a nice rhapsodic salon-piece, was written in the village of Shere in Surrey, a place where Scott loved to hole-up and work. It was conceived for piano, but after Kreisler made his violin version Scott wished he had thought of doing it.
Mr. Markov includes two pieces by Paganini, which, though they pose their problems, do not offer the fireworks of, say, the rondo from the second concerto or the variations on God Save the Queen. One is a sonata, originally for violin and guitar (Paganini had a brief but intense romance with that instrument). He wrote more than fifty pieces so titled, though many of them had little to do with any formal notion of sonatas. However, the two sets of six each that he published (Opp. 2 and 3) were in a not uncommon two-movement (slow-fast) variety; this is, I believe, from Op. 2. The other piece was originally also called ''sonata'' but is better known as Variations on ''Dal tuo stellato soglie'' from Rossini's Mose. '· This prayer (for bass and grand ensemble in the opera), is one of Rossini's lushest tunes. The entire piece is entrusted to the violin's lowest string, known as the G-string, with no apologies to Tempest Storm or Lili St. Cyr.
The Veracini in question was the younger· composer of that name, Francesco Maria, called ''The Florentine,'' and probably the greatest violin virtuoso of the generation after Arcangelo Corelli' s. He was a flamboyant and conceited person who proclaimed that his creed was ''One God and one Veracini, '' and who, in a fit of pique at his Dresden rival Pisendel, once threw himself from an upper window, bending several portions of his anatomy permanently. He wrote four sets of twelve violin sonatas each. Op. 2, the ''Academic Sonatas'' (i.e. designed as test-pieces), from which this E minor work is taken, is the best known set. Veracini provides each sonata with a number of movements, and suggests that the performer choose only those he sees fit to play. So much for the composer's intentions.
The Brahms number is the familiar F-sharp minor Hungarian Dance, in, I think, the Kreisler transcription. I was supposed to get a call giving me all the lowdown on the performer, but probably a tree or a pterodactyl fell on the telephone lines, and besides I've run out of space.