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Suite bizarre 'Cycles des rythmes, Suite No 4', Op 41

'Achron: Complete Suites for violin and piano' (CDA67841)
Achron: Complete Suites for violin and piano
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Movement 1: Étincelles: Allegro molto
Track 15 on CDA67841 CD2 [1'07] 2CDs for the price of 1
Movement 2: Quasi valse: Allegro
Track 16 on CDA67841 CD2 [2'33] 2CDs for the price of 1
Movement 3: Grâce: Allegretto
Track 17 on CDA67841 CD2 [1'46] 2CDs for the price of 1
Movement 4: Terrasses du palais: Calmato
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Movement 5: Grimaces: Moderato
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Movement 6: Galanterie: Andantino
Track 20 on CDA67841 CD2 [1'51] 2CDs for the price of 1
Movement 7: Pastorale: Allegro vivo
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Movement 8: Moment dramatique: Adagio e molto espressivo
Track 22 on CDA67841 CD2 [3'09] 2CDs for the price of 1
Movement 9: Marche grotesque: Allegro giocoso
Track 23 on CDA67841 CD2 [2'03] 2CDs for the price of 1

Suite bizarre 'Cycles des rythmes, Suite No 4', Op 41
In 1913 Achron took up a post at the Kharkov Conservatory in Ukraine, returning to Petrograd (as it was by this time called) in 1916, whilst also serving in the Russian Army music corps during World War I. This was a period of stylistic experimentation, as shown in his orchestral Epitaph, Op 38 (in memoriam Scriabin), and the progressively avant-garde Suite bizarre, Op 41 (subtitled ‘Cycles des rythmes’), composed in 1916. This title suits the Suite’s unusual irregular rhythm and phrasing, redolent of Bartók and Stravinsky, and its Scriabinesque chromatic harmony, extremes of register and complex instrumental interactions. Yet each movement also displays the discipline of a study, elaborating a single technical and structural idea with leonine violinistic demands.

The first movement, Étincelles, fizzes along with its chirpy dotted theme and quirky phrase lengths. It unfolds with arpeggio motifs and trills, rising higher like the sparks of the title, garbed in expressionistic chromaticism. Impressionistic modernism pervades Quasi valse, the lilting theme perhaps ironically recalling Strauss’s ‘Blue Danube’. Its transformation in different guises and registers is inflected with some giddy dissonances, emphasizing its yearning character. The extreme chromaticism of Grâce recalls the world of Mahler or Zemlinsky, the violin’s melody in chromatic sequences over staccato chords broadening to a more lyrical central section, with a magical pizzicato finish. Terrasses du palais conveys processional solemnity, the high lyrical melody set above a constantly falling scale in the piano’s bass, shaped into three main descents, the theme resolving only at the very end.

The gestures of Grimaces include rising octave swoops, chromatic glissandi, leaps and trills, chromatically guided with much imitation in the piano, which takes a Pierrot-like role until the unexpected ending. Galanterie is a Romantic miniature with a high degree of dissonance, in which a lyrical two-part texture, based on a rhythmic motif, gives way to more triadic imitative writing, and then returns to the initial idea, in a higher register, with flowing piano accompaniment. Finally the theme expands, leading to a cadenza and an elegiac ending redolent of Scriabin.

Pastorale is perhaps a ‘bizarre’ title for a movement which is fast, rhythmically fluid, melodically volatile and highly virtuosic. The irregular seven-beat metre colours the broad melody, which leads to an ornamental turn over a piano backdrop. A breezy faster section leads the violin to stratospheric heights, before returning to the main theme and an imitative coda. The Moment dramatique is rhetorically highly charged, the impassioned violin theme echoed by the piano, its return, after abrupt, dissonant chords, leading to a major-key ending. The Suite concludes with a sparkling Marche grotesque, adventurous and almost atonal. The grotesquerie here involves a piquant motif in myriad guises, rising to very high registers, with trills and chromatic glissandos over staccato piano chords. Both players are stretched to extremes, the violin’s vivacious left-hand pizzicato matched by the piano’s wild leaps and arpeggios, with chromatic sequences and polyrhythmic textures sustaining tension until the final flourish.

from notes by Malcolm Miller © 2012

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Details for CDA67841 disc 2 track 17
Grâce: Allegretto
Recording date
10 March 2009
Recording venue
Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel
Recording producer
Eric Wen
Recording engineer
Zvi Hirshler
Hyperion usage
  1. Achron: Complete Suites for violin and piano (CDA67841)
    Disc 2 Track 17
    Release date: March 2012
    2CDs for the price of 1
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