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George Antheil's Violin Sonata No 2 consists primarily of a chaotic agglomeration of jazzy fragments [listen -- track 1, 0:00-0:48] ended by a piano-pounding episode. After that, what can the violinist do but apologise, with a gentle, trivial melody accompanied by a drum -- the pianist having been sent off in disgrace? Antheil very clearly set out to shock his audience, but the piece can only shock each listener once so it is probably more effective live than in recording. Still, it's good to hear it, especially in such a colourful, assured performance.

With the addition of the viola we move into more substantial repertoire.

Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931), isolated politically and artistically in Soviet Russia until the early 1980s, is now quickly gaining recognition in the West. Her String Trio (1988) is in three movements. The first begins with stammering, wailing fragments and builds from there; words like 'agonised', 'searing', and 'tormented' come to mind. The second is an eerie threnody, while the third manages almost to resolve the emotional trauma of the first. It seems the composer has achieved a limited victory over her demons: if she has not quite vanquished them, she has at least fought them to a standstill [listen -- track 8, 4:25-5:40]. A slow epilogue recalls the second movement, but in a way that twists it from lamentation to acceptance. The trio is emotionally demanding but very satisfying; it's a much bigger work than its instrumentation or sub-twenty-minute length suggest.

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Copyright © 10 November 2004 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


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