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CD Review

20th Century Expressions

Bruno Monteiro, violin
João Paulo Santos, piano
Numérica NUM1173
Find it at Amazon UK

Wow. This is a wonderful, important release for anyone who's tired of the same old violin stuff over and over again. It's funny; collectors complain about the lack of musical diversity on the market, but usually shy away from discs like this because they don't feature "major" artists on "major" labels. Well, Bruno Monteiro and João Paolo Santos are major artists by any standard, having been praised on every label they've graced. They also dare to record a variety of works that are sometimes difficult to find, and other times extremely difficult to find. Frankly, I cannot stress enough how much I really enjoy their partnership; not only do they make excellent music, but there is a genuine chemistry that is very appealing.

The Szymanowski is a masterpiece of this medium. The outer movements seethe with forceful, driving movement. The inner andantino, by contrast, is as tranquil and lovely as can be. Szymanowski uses an undoubtedly modern language, but nothing turns coarse or ugly, nor does the work puzzle the listener in any way. That doesn't mean it isn't challenging; it is in the best possible way. Multiple listens confirm how well-written the work actually is, full of good tunes meshed with a solid intellectual argument. Monteiro and Santos make the work their own. While the violinist's tone has been mentioned as unique, he always serves the music with it. And Santos is his usual self, which is to say a masterful pianist working with a like-minded partner. Together, they allow the sonata to speak for itself, with excellent results.

The three-movement Bloch sonata isn't as memorable initially, but does add an important view on the composer, who is known for a select few works. I'm not convinced by the opening movement, which doesn't have the melody not tightness of form that the Szymanowski does. On the other hand, the Molto quieto is incredible. Monteiro uses his personal sound to stunning effect against Santos' rain-like accompaniment. It's haunting, and a must-hear. The work ends with a jaunty, folksy romp, and I like it. Throughout, the commitment and cogency that this pair brings to the work probably transcends the work itself. But that middle movement is something else.

The Korngold is a fun way to end a rewarding disc, and is played extremely well. As with the previous two works, Monteiro and Santos infuse the suite with a ton of character. It's here that the violinist's particular sound and style is most evident, and also most appropriate. The packaging is cool and stylish, the sound is very good indeed, and the project as a whole is as satisfying and musically rewarding as anything this pair has ever done. Excellent.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman