Miwako Abe

Works for Violin by Antheil, Beyer, Cowell, Dodge, Crawford, D. Mahler, Polansky & Wolpe

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New World's Works for Violin by Antheil, Beyer, Cowell, Crawford, Dodge, Mahler, Polansky, Wolpe is the lengthy but even-handed title of a collection of American violin works performed by Japanese-Australian violinist Miwako Abe and pianist Michael Kieran Harvey. Although these recordings were made in Australia, this is not a second-hand re-release made for an Australian label impossible to get in the United States but an original New World production coordinated between its New York-based office and Abe in Australia. Essentially, it is an unscientific survey of American violin music from between 1923 and 1996, beginning with the dawn of American modernism and concluding not long before the twentieth century ended.

The best-known pieces here are Henry Cowell's oft-recorded Suite for violin and piano and Antheil's raucous Sonata No. 2 for violin & piano "for Ezra Pound." These are heard in performances that are clean, professional, and well done -- Abe is not seeking to broaden her fan base through these recordings, nor to wow us with her dexterity. Her aim is just to transmit a wide variety of written music as clearly and faithfully as she can in keeping with other recorded recitals Abe has made in Australia such as Poème, an album featuring an all French program. There is a lot here that is both not familiar and highly desirable, particularly Johanna Beyer's 1937 Suite for violin and piano, arguably the most revelatory piece on the disc through its obvious experimentalism and unfamiliar, though formally secure, sense of style. Beyer was an immensely promising student and friend of Henry Cowell's whose career was cut short by an early death. Of the three works by living composers featured here, two pay homage to departed mavericks; David Mahler's Maxfield's Reel was inspired to some extent by the work of electronic music pioneer Richard Maxfield, and Larry Polansky's Movement in E major for John Cage even sounds a little like Cage in his late period. Charles Dodge's Etudes for violin and tape, the only electronic work here, is mind-bending and strangely effective, whereas Stefan Wolpe's Second Piece for Violin Alone is the only solo work -- a lonely movement composed by an aged, infirm composer near the end of a hard and difficult life.

The choice of Ruth Crawford Seeger's early and never before recorded Nocturne for violin and piano is a good one; it evokes the aura of the nineteenth century even as it strains into the techniques of the twentieth. As even the twentieth century is now history to us, this is as good a time as any to look back at what American composers have contributed to literature for violin. Miwako Abe and Michael Kieran Harvey do an exceptional job of it on New World's Works for Violin by Antheil, Beyer, Cowell, Crawford, Dodge, Mahler, Polansky, Wolpe.

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