Wednesday, February 9, 2022

CD Review: Maija Einfelde Violin sonatas (Magdalēna Geka, violin; Iveta Calite, piano) Skani 129

If art does not always imitate life, it can certainly echo it. For a case in point, then look no further than the Latvian composer Maija Einfelde (born 1939). As the liner notes to this release make clear, Einfelde has endured a complicated and rather winding path to the widespread acceptance of her compositions. A difficult childhood often away from her parents, then not seeing eye-to-eye with her professor at the Latvian Conservatory of Music, followed by disputes with the Composers’ Union during the Soviet years when they did pretty much everything they could to thwart her creative spirit are just three instances of obstacles that had to be overcome.

In the Latvian context, Einfelde’s three sonatas for violin and piano, plus a further sonata for solo violin, constitute an important contribution to the genre. Listening to this recording from beginning to end, a repeating characteristic jumps out – in a word, it is edginess. That is not to say that it present in every movement – if that was the case the music would risk being just one oppressive page after another, which is not the case at all. But edge is definitely central to Einfelde’s idiom, and to go back to where I began, perhaps that’s only to be expected.

The first sonata, from 1980, is in four brief contrasting movements. The first is free-flowing yet has that edge in her use of harmonics, the second is more emphatic, the third is stuck in stasis and the fourth has a yearning character.

The second sonata, written in 1985, condenses the form to three movements. The opening movement starts with dramatic flourish before it looks inwards and becomes more pensive. The middle movement is a somewhat unexpected Minuet, scored with delicacy and consummate technical knowledge. The closing movement initially appears to be a piano solo, but once the violin joins proceedings the music proceeds with amiability.  This might have captured – one conjectures – a moment of rare peace for the composer.

The third sonata, from 1990 in two movements, brings forth that edginess again. This time, it takes a different form. The first movement, played as slowly as possible, creeps inexorably to a heated pitch that excites and disturbs in equal measure. The second movement contrasts, thankfully, with a more peaceful aspect.

The solo sonata, from 1997, has Bartok’s Second Violin Sonata as its model, as Einfelde held it to be an ‘ideal’. Of the three movements the middle one is the most demanding for both player and listener – at times one might think the violinist is playing razor wire rather than strings, such is its all-encompassing forcefulness. This goes some way beyond mere edginess.

The violinist Magdalēna Geka and pianist Iveta Cālīte prove fully up to the demands of this music, both technically and in terms of its spirit. The recording is first rate, proving that Latvian music is in safe hands with the Skani label. Bring on further releases, and soon, as many treasures of the Latvian repertoire deserve a wider audience.

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