Thanks to the generosity of Ann Moore Mulally, Yarlung Records brings you the long anticipated second recording featuring Finnish violinist Petteri Iivonen, Canadian pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald and their special musical chemistry. We live during a musical flowering, especially in Southern California. Future generations will look back on these decades as one of the musical golden eras
for live concert performances and new music composition. Despite this, classical recordings do not sell enthusiastically any more. But along with concerts, recordings remain one of the principal ways our society shares musical greatness. Even though classical music recordings are not as commercial as they once were, they provide critical support to musicians and their careers, they remain the medium through which most of us first hear and appreciate classic repertoire, and they provide endless listening pleasure at home. So we are doubly grateful to our friends and sponsors, especially Ann, for making this recording possible.
Petteri Iivonen played Bach's Sonata in G Minor when he first auditioned for Yarlung. It was the first piece Petteri played for me. I was an Iivonen convert from the opening notes of the Adagio. I enjoy early music performance practice as much as I enjoy "modern" playing. Petteri clearly fits into the latter category, but he incorporates elements from both approaches. His Bach is powerful, nuanced, virtuosic, unostentatious, and he makes the listener want to dance.
J. S. Bach wrote his Sei Solo - a violino senza Basso accompagnato, his six solos for unaccompanied violin (three sonatas and three partitas) during the first twenty years of the 18th Century. But it is unclear whether or not these masterpieces were ever performed in concert during the composer's lifetime. Bach was himself a superb violinist (and expert on every instrument in the orchestra) and he doubtless played them himself. They did not become famous until the 19th Century when Josef Joachim began to perform these works widely. It was Nathan Milstein who truly introduced these works to the twentieth century, playing these sonatas and partitas many times in concert, and making his famous recordings for EMI in the mid fifties, and then again for DGG in the mid seventies. Thanks to the generosity of Jerry and Terri Kohl, the owners of Nathan Milstein's legendary violin, the "ex Goldmann" Stradivarius from 1716, Yarlung has had the privilege of recording this violin on three different albums. First with Martin Chalifour and most recently with Robert Gupta, all in the spectacular acoustics of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
After Petteri Iivonen and Kevin Fitz-Gerald charmed us with the Debussy sonata on their first album together, we wanted to share their collaboration on two other titans of the violin sonata repertoire. Petteri and Kevin chose Franck's Violin Sonata in A Major and Brahms' Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor Op 108 for this recording.
We pause briefly between these two monumental works for Miniature VIII, by David S. Lefkowitz. Petteri is fond of David's music. With generous help from the Jerry & Adi Greenberg Foundation, Yarlung commissioned Eli Eli for Petteri, which he recorded on our
first album. David wrote Miniature VIII in 1994. A well-known violinist played it once at the premiere and then declared it nearly unplayable because of the demands it makes on the left hand, including several unison double-stops. Miniature VIII does not
sound difficult. The slow, beautiful and haunting melody draws the listener toward the work's mood and imagery, not to its virtuosity. I liked the piece, and asked David to arrange it as a duet for violin and viola. We released this version with violinist Serena McKinney and violist Katie Kadarauch on our Yarlung Records album Inner World. After I began to work with Petteri Iivonen, I knew we had an artist who could play the original. I remember David's face when he presented the work to Petteri, explaining that he was happy to make certain adjustments if the fingering proved too demanding. Petteri read quickly through the music, smiled and said to David "Your job was to write this music. It is my job to play it." Play it he does.
César Franck wrote his Violin Sonata in A Major as a wedding present for the great Belgian composer and violinist Eugène Ysaÿe in 1886. The story differs. In one version, Ysaÿe asked Franck to write a sonata for him. In another version, Franck surprised Ysaÿe with the sonata as a gift on the morning of his marriage. Ysaÿe rehearsed quickly and performed the sonata at the wedding itself
later that day. The sonata soon took its place among the standard masterpieces. Franck wrote his best known works late in life. Indeed he completed his Symphony in D Minor two years after the violin sonata, and the symphony premiered less than two
years before his death.
The Franck sonata isn't about a marriage, or even a wedding ceremony. But if we are lucky, great works of music can capture a unique image of an entire world. And in this composition one can almost hear the stages in a marriage and in a couple's life together. The tentative, fragile opening, building slowly in confidence as the two instruments, two voices, begin to blend. The second movement opens with a storm in the piano. The violin joins in the storm. Listen as glimmers of sunlight, encouragement, stubborn optimism and resolution poke through the clouds, especially in Petteri's hands. The final movement alternates between
tenderness and exuberance until the story reaches its climax.
Johannes Brahms dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 3 to Hans von Bulow; it premiered with violinist Jeno Hubay in Budapest during
the winter of 1888 with Brahms himself at the piano. This is the darkest and most severe of his three sonatas, and was soon taken up by Josef Joachim, who programmed it and played it repeatedly. Along with Vier ernste Gesaenge, this sonata remains my favorite of Brahms' compositions, possibly because it careens so calculatedly between heart-racing nervous tension and glorious melody. As
was so often the case with Brahms, the composer had little confidence in this work when it was complete. He delayed sending it to his friend Clara Schumann because he feared the piece was not good enough for her to like it. Brahms didn't want her to share the work with Joachim unless she felt it would pass muster. When Brahms finally did share it with Clara Schumann, she responded with
appropriate enthusiasm for this great work of art.
Some scholars note that Brahms' piano parts in his sonatas and vocal music reach even higher levels of sophistication than the violinist's or singer's lines. There is certainly a healthy give and take between violin and piano in this sonata, but the piano part at least equals if not surpasses the violin part in subtlety. Regardless, Petteri and Kevin capture the listener in an unrelenting musical grip until the sonata's satisfying conclusion.
Thanks to support from Dean Robert Cutietta, we recorded Petteri and Kevin in Alfred Newman Hall at the University of Southern California. Newman Hall exemplifies the warm yet transparent and lively sound of concert halls that I favor for recordings, and its acoustics adjust easily to provide different lengths of decay. We chose a legendary Austrian AKG C-24 stereo microphone with
the original brass surround CK12 tube, made available to us by our friend and sponsor Jon Fisher at Gearworks Pro Audio. We used five-feet long Yarlung-Records-designed interconnects with a flat silver ribbon suspended in air for the dielectric, customized vacuum tube preamplifiers and no mixer. The signal path was as short as we could make it, with as few electronics between performer and final product as possible.
In closing, I would like to thank Martin Chalifour, a good friend and advisor to Yarlung Artists, for his help with this recording. Martin worked closely with me and helped us choose the best takes for each movement from our four days of recording sessions. He has
played this repertoire in many concerts, and Martin's help was invaluable.
Bob Attiyeh, producer July 15,2011