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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDH55149
Recording details: January 1990
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: November 1990
Total duration: 27 minutes 37 seconds

'An outstandingly successful and enjoyable issue' (Gramophone)

'A distinguished and well recorded issue' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'…this music has never sounded so seductive on disc … Everything is played with a glowing affection and naturalness' (International Record Review)

'Enthralling programme … a riveting account of Bartók's Sonata … fiery intensity, commanding technique and perfect intonation' (The Strad)

'Go out and buy a copy' (Classic CD)

Sonata for solo violin, Sz117

Tempo di ciaccona  [10'06]
Melodia: Adagio  [7'05]
Presto  [5'32]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For much of 1943, isolated and unhappy in the USA, Bartók was dangerously ill with a fever that was probably the onset of his fatal leukaemia. Discreet help from Szigeti and others allowed him some rest and financial security, and in the autumn, somewhat recovered, he heard the young Yehudi Menuhin play his second Violin Concerto and first Violin Sonata in separate concerts in New York. Bartók was overjoyed not only to hear his music played at all, but so well: on meeting Menuhin he exclaimed that he had always thought music only received such performances long after its composer’s death. Menuhin promptly commissioned a solo violin work, and Bartók’s health stabilized enough over winter for the present solo Sonata to be completed by 14 March 1944.

That and the third Piano Concerto were the last two works whose music Bartók completed; at his death in 1945 both works remained not fully edited for publication. Bartók had the consolation of hearing Menuhin give the solo Sonata’s premiere in ‘a wonderful performance’ in November 1944, just a few days before another magnificent premiere, that of his Concerto for Orchestra. In its four-movement span the solo Sonata is one of the largest musical risks Bartók ever took; in his own words after the premiere, ‘I was afraid it was too long; imagine … a single violin for twenty minutes. But it was quite all right, at least for me’. If the titles of its first two movements suggest Bach, those of the last two suggest folk tradition; in reality all four movements blend folk and Classical tradition with breathtaking virtuosity. In specifying ‘Tempo di ciaccona’ Bartók took the additional risk of making the first movement not literally a chaconne (it only follows chaconne tempo) but a full-scale sonata structure.

As in earlier years with Székely and Szigeti, Bartók left Menuhin some freedom in details of performance, offering a few alternative readings, particularly in the finale where a substantial passage can be played either with quarter-tone intervals or more conventionally in semitones. Menuhin chose the latter, and this reading was adopted in the work’s publication after Bartók’s death. More recently Bartók’s initial quarter-tone version has become available, and can be heard here.

from notes by Roy Howat © 1990

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