This is a formidable solo recital from a highly accomplished musician. George Zacharias has constructed a programme that begins and ends with Paganini and has located at its heart three solo sonatas written twenty years apart that represent some of the greatest such works written in the twentieth century.
The first of these is the Bartók. If one thinks here of Menuhin, or Tetzlaff’s powerful inscription (Virgin 5456682) or the more recent live Kremer (EMI 6933992), so resinous and biting, one should not overlook this newcomer. His tonal resources do not cleave to the brittle or plosive Kremeresque or indeed to the sometimes folkloric hues propounded by Tetzlaff. If there is a general feeling that he is temperamentally closer to Menuhin, it is a tangential matter. He adopts resourceful tempi, finely judged, unexceptionable in the best sense. His voicings are varied subtly and imaginatively, and at the apex of this performance sits the Melodia (with mute) which is a small master class in accentuation, dynamic shading and myriad suggestive colouristic devices – all sounding perfectly natural and unforced.
It’s a fine prelude for the earlier sonata by Skalkottas, a work of concentrated achievement within the course of its four movement, twelve minute length. Even in this early-days period of his compositional development one senses Skalkottas’s occasionally bristling vocabulary. Zacharias offers a probing statement on the matter and if, in the final result, I tend to prefer Georgios Demertzis (BIS CD 1024) it’s because at a very slower tempo he reveals more of the numbness that lies in the work’s bloodstream and also a very slightly more abrasive take on its modernity. Zacharias has also chosen the sonata Ysaÿe wrote for Manuel Quiroga, a Spanish violinist of outstanding gifts who unfortunately left behind only a series of morceaux 78s by which to be judged. Brief and concentrated this receives a winning reading different from, but significantly better recorded than, say, Oscar Shumsky’s famed recording (Nimbus NI1735). Zacharias’s tone here is rightly broader, wider and more romanticised in orientation, as befits this masterpiece of Ysaÿe’s last years.
One now turns, semi-exhausted after the level of virtuosity, to the two Paganini pieces that frame these three solo sonatas. Nel cor più , a favourite of Old School lions up to Accardo and beyond, receives a truly insouciant dusting, the gymnastics of the fourth variation in particular dispatched with outrageous authority. Few dare attempt the God Save The King variations in public, so ferocious are the demands. Here we find nearly eight minutes’ worth of wrist numbing drama, projected with unstinting panache.
Adding to the lustre of this disc is the booklet. I don’t normally go on about such things but a word of praise should be sent to the team responsible for this one. The composer photographs, though small, are clear, and the whole thing has a most attractive appearance.
When one encounters excellence of this kind it’s right to acknowledge the fact. So too the recorded sound, and the recital as a whole. More from this source please – and soon.
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