In the Baroque era, concertos for two violins were common; Vivaldi composed a ton of them. Violin duets, too, were popular in the distant past, particularly in the Classical period. However, with the passage of time, composers have not kept up their end of the bargain in terms of writing works featuring paired violins. If you happen to be a violin duo, as sisters Angela and Jennifer Chun are, that can add up to slim pickings in terms of repertoire choices that are more up to date than say, Vivaldi. On their Harmonia Mundi album Fantasy, Angela and Jennifer Chun perform some of the key twentieth century literature for violin duo. They play this music so well it makes one regret that composers have not produced more for this winning combination. Pianist Nelson Padgett provides the accompaniment in the pieces that call for it.
The Sonata for two violins and piano, Op. 15, is a very early instrumental work of Darius Milhaud, dating from 1914 and therefore even before Milhaud's departure for Brazil, where he wrote the music that established his reputation in the early '20s. It is also the longest work on the disc, and it makes clear Milhaud's relative comfort with the impressionistic harmony favored by younger French composers of the era. However, it is not imitation Debussy; its relative clarity of texture and directness already foreshadows his typical working method as a member of Les Six; this is an important piece and one is grateful to the Chuns for having recorded it, as it has received only relatively few recordings overall. The Sonatina for two violins and piano of Bohuslav Martinu dates from 1930 and is even more obscure than the Milhaud, for no good reason that one can deduce from listening to it as it is bright, witty, excitingly rhythmic, and very attractive. Isang Yun's Sonatina for two violins (1983) and Pezzo Fantasioso (1988) are marvelous, late works of Yun and surely among his finest chamber pieces. The lack of piano accompaniment in these pieces provides some measure of flexibility for the Chuns to stretch out, and they take full advantage of it through their deeply expressive and emotional interpretations, not to mention no small measure of violinistic fireworks. The Shostakovich Three Violin Duets are arrangements by Lev Atovmyan from Shostakovich's film and incidental music; the source of the third-movement "Waltz" is unidentified. While they may not represent Shostakovich at his most characteristic, the pieces fit in well with the rest of the program.
This recording, not released until January 2008, was made at the Academy of Arts and Letters nearly a decade before. Certainly better late than never, and in the meantime, Angela and Jennifer Chun have not taken the paucity of contemporary duo violin literature sitting down; in addition to Yun, they have pressed for new music from composers ranging from Alfred Schnittke to Sebastian Currier. With any luck, Harmonia Mundi's Fantasy will help excite interest in the Chuns among record listeners -- they are already a known quantity among concertgoers -- and we will hear the results of their advocacy of the violin duo format.