Mark Fewer / John Novacek

Georges Antheil: Sonatas for Violin and Piano

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As the eclectic, inventive, and just plain fun side of 20th century music has reestablished its legitimacy, American composer George Antheil, the "bad boy of music," has merited new performances. Of what other composer could something like this be written (as it is here in the booklet notes)? "His compositional impasse during the second half of the Thirties was a serious one, and for a time he considered himself a failure and turned to other activities such as journalism, endocrinology, and advice to the lovelorn." These violin sonatas are not common items at all, and the unfinished (and somewhat Bartókian) Sonata for violin solo (1927), written like two of the three accompanied sonatas for Ezra Pound's music Olga Rudge, is a world premiere. It is amusing to contemplate the fact that the Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano (1923), with its almost Ivesian kaleidoscope of popular tunes, was dedicated to the erudite Pound himself, but that's all part of the charm of 1920s expatriate culture. Antheil called the work "cubistic tin-pan-alley," and the unidentified annotator here conveys its quality accurately: "It is as if we could now tune in a radio of the Twenties and go on wildly and rapidly switching the frequency knob." The work ends in unpitched noise and is an entirely worthy chamber companion to the Ballet mécanique. The Violin Sonata No. 1 reflects the influence of Stravinsky but is both more conservative in its classical forms and more radical in its incorporation of rhythmic inflections from Arabic music. The Violin Sonata No. 4, from the late 1940s, is unique in its incorporation of material from the earlier pieces, smoothing them out into a basically neo-classical format just as the rest of the world was embarking on the high-modernist phase. The performances by violinist Mark Fewer and pianist John Novacek are full of the ebullient spirit of these scores, and Novacek's keyboard work is especially notable in its swift confidence in Antheil's jazz writing, which doesn't always lie easily on the keyboard. Highly enjoyable for Antheil fans, Stravinsky fans, Satie fans, or really anybody curious about Antheil.

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