Duos for Cello & Violin
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Servais, A.F. / Ghys, J. / Leonard, H. / Vieuxtemps, H.: Duos for Cello and Violin
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Adrien FranCois Servais, dubbed the 'Paganini of the cello', collaborated with three of the greatest violin virtuosi of his time, the Belgians Joseph Ghys, Henry Vieuxtemps and Hubert Leonard, to create the six duets for violin and cello heard on this
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Top Customer Reviews
• Servais was the 19th-century cellist equivalent of Paganini and writes for his instrument much like a violin virtuoso would, exploiting double-stops, octaves, harmonics, pizzicato, and even sul ponticello color.
• These duos are collaborative works Servais wrote with the help of violinists like Vieuxtemps, Hubert Léonard, and Joseph Ghys.
• Violin and cello are equal partners and dazzling. Sometimes the thickets of notes are so decorative that rapid scales sound like glissandi.
• Each duo is a paraphrase on famous airs or opera themes and roughly 12 minutes in length. While I've heard a slew of better operatic fantasies, these violin/cello duos have enough technical stunts and highlights to arouse string enthusiasts.
• Friedemann Eichhorn (violin) and Alexander Hülshoff (cello) are the consummate duo—technically adroit and keenly synergetic—with several recordings to their credit.
• Sterling recorded sound and acoustics.
Judging from these duos, Adrien François Servais (1807-1866) earned the moniker "Paganini of the cello" for good reason. In them the cellist is required to perform astounding feats of dexterity and execute vigorous passagework in tandem with the violin. Each of these paraphrases follows a particular formula. A short introduction precedes the theme, which is then varied before the emergence of the next theme, and finally concludes with intensified bravura. Violin and cello are totally equal, taking turns accompanying or carrying the melody. Virtually every extended technique is used: multiple-stops, octaves, left-hand pizzicato, harmonics, and even sul ponticello.
Servais collaborated with Belgian violinist Hubert Léonard (1819-1890) on several "Grand Duo de Concerts." The first is a variations on "God Save the King" and "Yankee Doodle." A succession of arpeggios, bariolage, and octaves set the stage for emphatic and light-footed variations. In one remarkable instance, Servais calls for sul ponticello scales in the manner of Paganini. Surprises continue when the mood shifts to minor-key pathos and Baroque sequences, but this too vanishes and makes way for an upbeat "Yankee Doodle" paraphrase, full of frenetic interplay and more ponticello color. In the "Grand duo de Concert No. 2 sur des themes de Beethoven," Servais explores material from the Pastoral Symphony. Beethoven's themes, however, often disappear amidst the ornate tapestry. Both instruments produce double-stopping, propulsive triplets, and whirling figures in free fall. During one passage, the violin plays sul ponticello while the cello engages in tremolos to dramatic effect.
The "Grand Duo de Concert No. 3" is the only piece comprised entirely of original content by Leonard & Servais. Despite its moderate tempo, this work is highly animated with florid repeated patterns, shimmering colors, and graceful waltz material. Interspersed throughout the busy passages are short stretches of lyricism and an expressive cello cadenza. Paganini comes to mind during the final minutes of fiendish leaps, harmonics, and rollicking left-hand pizzicato. In the "Grand Duo de Concert No. 4 sur des motifs de l'opera L'Africaine de Meyerbeer," the composers strike a fine balance of serious cantabile lyricism and extroverted brilliance. Both instruments begin an intimate dialogue and declaim a passionate theme in unison before embarking on intense portamento and minor-key material. The work closes in rousing fashion with galloping fireworks.
I see that the Ghys & Servais "Variations brillantes et concertantes sur l'air God Save the King" has received attention from Gidon Kremer who recorded it on Nonesuch. I'm bewildered by its marginal popularity because to my taste, it's not nearly as interesting as the Leonard & Servais collaboration featuring "God Save the King." And even compared to other variations on this theme by Paganini, Onslow, and Thalberg, it drags along and lacks excitement. After two minutes of throat clearing, the actual theme is stated and varied in rhapsodic fashion. While undoubtedly virtuosic, the showmanship is bridled by an elegant veneer of soft dynamics. In some of the finer moments, both instruments generate flying staccato and dizzying flurries of 16ths, but I expected more.
Lastly, Servais enlists the aid of Vieuxtemps in crafting the "Grand Duo sur des motifs de l'opera Les Huguenots de Meyerbeer." This piece is a slight disappointment because, unlike the Liszt and Thalberg fantasies, it doesn't use the best themes from the opera. Nevertheless, the work is wafting in bel canto flavor and brilliant runs. Cello and violin often take turns playing tremolos while the other delivers spirited flourishes. Alas, this collaboration with Vieuxtemps could have benefited from a better selection of opera "motifs."
Friedemann Eichhorn and Alexander Hülshoff are an accomplished and veteran duo with several recordings to their credit. These two brandish a first-class technique and exhibit incredible agility, especially when executing all the speedy staccato patter. They're one of the most polished violin-cello duos I've heard. Recorded sound is close and detailed, and the warm church acoustics are pleasing.