(Sunday, August 15, 2010) – CD Review by Robert Maxham
VOLODJA BALZALORSKY LIVE IN MARIBOR ‚Ä¢ Volodja Balzalorsky (vn); Christoph Theiler (pn) ‚Ä¢ CANTABEL 003 (45:58) Live: Malibor 11/1989
DVORAK Violin Sonatina. DEBUSSY Violin Sonata. SREBOTNJAK Violin Sonatina No. 1. PAGANINI Cantabile
The third volume of Volodja Balzalorsky‚Äôs ‚ÄúLive Collection‚Äù presents a recital given by Balzalorsky and pianist Christoph Theiler in Kazina Hall in Maribor, and recorded by Radio Sloveni-Regionalni RTV, in 1989. The duo opened the program on that occasion with Dvorakk‚Äôs Sonatina, its first movement (and the opening of the second) suffused with glowing warmth and the charming rhythmic patterns teased cleverly out of the Larghetto‚Äôs middle section. Balzalorsky studied for a while with Josef Suk in Vienna, and he plays the Sonatina‚Äôs Scherzo as though he had written it, with particularly insinuating subtlety in the trio. The work has been called the ‚ÄúIndian Sonatina‚Äù because of its connections with Iowa and Minnesota, but Balzalorsky colors it middle European rather than middle American. If, after the first three movements, he seems to press in the Finale, his rhythmic energy and robust tone tie it‚Äîespecially its reflective penultimate passage‚Äîto the other movements.
The first movement of Debussy‚Äôs Sonata in Balzalorsky‚Äôs performance sounds slinky and ethereal in its first movement, with appropriately reedy and highly inflected tone production, while Theiler provides shimmering background. I‚Äôve watched David Oistrakh playing this work with Frida Bauer (on VHS, Kultur 1208) many times, but he didn‚Äôt seem to make as many timbral adjustments (neither did Isaac Stern in his recording from 1960) as does Balzalorsky in order to realize the movement‚Äôs full potential (Joseph Szigeti did‚Äîat least almost did‚Äîin his 1940 recital with Bart√≥k, though the recorded sound doesn‚Äôt allow listeners to hear all of the expressive detail they seemed to produce). The Interm√®de: Fantasque et l√©ger, however, sounds generally heavier and less fantasque in Balzalorsky‚Äôs reading (especially in the central section‚Äôs repeated notes) than it does in either of these others so that the return to greater poignancy at its end provides a lower level of contrast. Nevertheless, Balzalorsky‚Äôs final passage suggests pastels, though haunting ones. The duo begins the last movement slowly, but quickly turns to a sort of sharp-edged articulation that lends the movement unusual excitement almost to the end.
The three movements of Alojz Srebotnjak‚Äôs First Sonatina last only about eight minutes. The opening Allegro deciso, crisply rhythmic and tonal, assigns to the piano the role of a relatively equal partner, and Balzalorsky and Theiler collaborate in it with energetic √©lan. The slow movement begins with a plaintive song for solo violin. Balzalorsky invests its singing melodies with great beauty of tone, and Theiler provides suggestive commentary. The finale, Danza, returns to the first movement‚Äôs rhythmic piquancy and sharp definition, with the violin at the outset setting the pace with slashing double-stops reminiscent of those in Stravinsky‚Äôs Violin Concerto. In general, it‚Äôs a work and a performance that collectors and explorers of all kinds should welcome‚Äîincluding the closing reading of Paganini‚Äôs brief Cantabile (so often played with guitar) epitomizing elegant refinement and suave tonal charm.
If the CD‚Äôs short duration gives anyone pause, the program‚Äôs general excellence (as well as the vibrant recorded sound) should, in this case, compensate in some measure, especially since the program represents a single live performance. Recommended. Robert Maxham
This article originally appeared in Issue 33:6 (July/Aug 2010) of Fanfare Magazine.