Frank Peter Zimmermann/Heinrich Schiff: Honegger, et al. (ECM New Series 1912)


Frank Peter Zimmermann and Heinrich Schiff
play the music of:
Arthur Honegger
Bohuslav Martinů
Johann Sebastian Bach
Matthias Pintscher
Maurice Ravel

Frank Peter Zimmermann violin
Heinrich Schiff violoncello
Recorded August 2004, Propstei St. Gerold, and January 2005, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Frank Peter Zimmermann and Heinrich Schiff make their ECM debuts with this scintillating program of music for violin and cello. Tapping into a surprisingly fecund repertoire for a too often neglected combination and dusting off a few under-recognized masterpieces of chamber literature along the way, the duo brings two decades of collaboration to the table for a rich banquet of sonic delights. The glue that holds the album together comes by way of Johann Sebastian Bach in two canons from his Kunst der Fuge. The seamless bifurcation between the musicians enhances their contrapuntal adhesion and recasts the surrounding works as ghostly echoes of untold virtue.

The rarely heard Sonatine VI for Violin and Violoncello in E minor (1932) of Arthur Honegger emits light with every stroke of the bow. With Ravel-like ebullience and a touch of Dvořák, its melodic trajectories converge at the listener’s heart. Skillful navigations between the energetic and the lyrical give the piece an organic undertone. Whereas a loving Andante tightens into a braid of introverted expression, the final Allegro breaks the violin into pieces against the punctuations of a Bartókian cello and ends with a flourish of exhilarating diffusion. Bohuslav Martinů’s Duo for Violin and Violoncello No. 1, H. 157 (1927) leads us next into a whimsical Preludium, balancing indifference and unity in two robust melodic lines. Here, the instrumentalists are less distinguishable in their new harmonically transcendent territory. With a flick of the proverbial wrists, a skillful Rondo unveils the composer’s ecstatic charm in greater clarity. A brilliant new discovery from the young Matthias Pintscher awaits in Study I (2004), an auditory exploration of “Treatise on the Veil” by artist Cy Twombly.

Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), 1970

As the newest statement on the album, it forms a tight circle with Bach, along which the other pieces may be comfortably plotted. As breathy sighs run their fingers along even vaguer harmonic edges, Pintscher’s deceptive minimalism reveals a wealth of vocal atmospheres.

Upon the death of Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel composed this Sonata for Violin and Violoncello (1922) in memory of the composer to whom he was most often compared. As if to assert his own distinct voice, he tried a new approach by stripping the sonata to its barest elements. The result is a string quartet halved without any loss of density. The challenges therein seem only to have urged him on, producing one of his most vividly realized works. The sonata is ecstatic, beautifully played, and masterfully constructed, weaving its way through an Orphic center before breaching an exuberant outer shell.

Overall, this is a fascinating album filled to the brim with utterly gorgeous music. One might say the two instruments come together like the hands of a keyboard, only here they sing through more sustained interactions with strings. The piano is most certainly not missed, and indeed would find no room to stand.

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