Oct 28: ECM New Series releases Duo Gazzana's recording of Kõrvits, Schumann, and Grieg

ECM New Series Releases

Duo Gazzana

Kõrvits / Schumann / Grieg


Natascia Gazzana, violin; Raffaella Gazzana, piano

Release Date: October 28, 2022

ECM New Series 2706


Prior recordings by Duo Gazzana have seen the Italian sisters garner much praise and critical acclaim for their “imaginative playing, and willingness to color outside the customary lines” (Fanfare). The BBC Music Magazine called their interpretation of César Franck’s Violin Sonata “a masterclass”, and the German Spiegel magazine considers them “one of the most interesting new chamber duos, (…) capable of successfully linking seemingly disparate artists like Ligeti, Ravel and Messiaen with conviction.” In a continued balancing act of combining inventive contemporary works with traditional classical repertoire on ECM New Series, this time the duo of Italian sisters Gazzana ventures back to the 19th century for impassioned interpretations of Robert Schumann’s Sonata op. 105 and Edvard Grieg’s Sonata op. 45. Premiere recordings of Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits’s Stalker Suite and notturni, each in four movements, make up the contemporary part of the programme.

Shortly after becoming musical director of the orchestra in Düsseldorf in 1850, Robert Schumann’s mental health started to decline and it is in this period that he wrote his final violin works, including the Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, from 1851. Like many of his later works, this piece is characterized by a particularly dense thematic concentration. The first movement’s darkly surging main theme, coloured by the sonority of the violin’s rich, husky G string, is one of the composer’s most memorable inventions. Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana connect with the piece on a deeply committed level, making the canonic element of the first movement, ‘Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck’, resonate with special expressiveness. The Allegretto in Rondo form is a brisk intermezzo giving way to the third movement, ‘Lebhaft’, which brings back the canonic structures, calling on some of the duo’s most fervent playing.

For Edward Grieg’s Sonata No. 3 in C minor the Gazzanas opted for the composer’s first copy instead of the first edition of the score, thereby shedding fresh light on Grieg’s final Sonata, which is understood to have been a personal favorite of the composer’s. Norwegian folk melodies and rhythms are transfigured here, as the Sonata navigates from the pressing opening movement ‘Allegro molto ed appassionato’ through a swift romance, ‘Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza’, to the rousing rhythm of the ‘Allegro animato’ that concludes the Sonata. The focus shifts back and forth between violin and piano in the process.

Tõnu Kõrvits’s works contrast this romantic repertoire musically, as well as by their sequencing on the album. NPR has called Kõrvits “a supremely lyrical sensualist”, and his idiosyncratic compositional voice seems to be influenced equally by 20th century minimalism and the practices of his former mentor, the late Estonian master composer Veljo Tormis. But his music floats between the idioms, not abiding by strict sets of rules. Opening the programme is Stalker Suite, in homage to Andrei Tarkovsky and named after the film director’s chef d’œuvre from 1979. This suite, as the four notturni that follow later on, Kõrvits dedicated to the Gazzanas. Both performances are premiere recordings and capture the tonal ambivalence of the composer’s scores with poignancy. Not quite miniatures, nor exactly in song form, the pieces defy conventional structure.

Paul Griffiths draws visual parallels between the film and the composition in his liner note, especially for the suite’s final movement: “‘Waterfall’, in remembering the piano’s repertory of aqueous imagery, remembers too the presence of water in the film, running and still, living and dead. The violin adds a lament. The piece breaks off on the threshold of something it has caught sight of but cannot bring nearer, not now. Or not yet.” The four notturni, composed in 2014 and similar to the Stalker Suite by design, investigate common chords, steadily interspersed with dissonances and textural frictions, creating open yet tense spaces for violin and piano to explore.

The performances were captured in the historic Reitstadel Neumarkt in November 2021 and produced by Manfred Eicher.

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Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana’s first recording for ECM New Series, Five Pieces from 2011, features works by Takemitsu, Hindemith, Janáček and Silvestrov. A second album, presenting music of Poulenc, Walton, Dallapiccola, Schnittke and Silvestrov followed in 2014. The duo’s last album, from 2018, incorporates works by Ravel, Franck, Ligeti and Messiaen and saw BBC Music Magazine calling it “an authoritative performance. […] the poise the Gazzanas bring to both Ravel and Messiaen is impressive.”

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