PRESS & REVIEWS
MOZART (2) String Duos for Violin and Viola, K 423/24 (arr. Berke & Miranda). BEETHOVEN (3) Duos for Clarinet and Bassoon, WoO 27 (arr. Hermann) • Boris Abramov (vn); Carmine Miranda (vc) • NAVONA 6118 (77:32)
Unusual combinations for chamber music often involve arrangements, as in this lively and entertaining album of duos for violin and cello. As the headnote indicates, the two Mozart pieces were originally composed for violin and viola, the three Beethoven for clarinet and bassoon. It was common practice for adaptations of all kinds to be made in the 18th and 19th centuries, usually by publishers who wanted the widest market possible for a composition that was likely to be copied and stolen very soon after publication (typically by rival publishers, although music-mad Vienna was also rife with amateur pirates).
I didn’t know any of these duos and was eager to hear what Mozart would do, thinking of his delightful masterpiece, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, K 364. One remembers that Mozart was proud of his violin playing and loved the viola, which is made abundantly clear in that work. But when he presented the Archbishop of Salzburg with the two String Duos, the commission was a completion of six such duos by Michael Haydn. This apparently restricted Mozart’s inspiration, because charming as his contribution is, nothing new, adventurous, or even very original happens in them. Both are straightforward major-key works (in G and B-flat respectively), but as compared with Haydn, who had assigned some double-stops to the viola, Mozart also added more sixteenth-note flourishes and runs.
Violinist Boris Abramov and cellist Carmine Miranda, who also was the co-arranger for violin and cello, give a lovely reading of music that is also a notable addition to the repertoire for this combination of instruments. As the booklet comments, we are to imagine a “what if” relating to how Mozart might have written for violin and cello. In terms of voices, the viola’s alto clef has been taken down to the cello’s tenor clef, and since the violin part sometimes reaches for high embellishments, the cello can feel more like continuo than an equal partner. Still, there is certainly interest in how the two voices are used in canon and counterpoint, for example, and Abramov-Miranda blend with seamless expertise. Although the cello is rarely allowed to be the first to state a theme (I detected a brief instance in the theme and variations that concludes Duo No. 2), I imagine Mozart was following Michael Haydn’s lead. One remembers that the cello was gradually coming into its own as more that a dutiful provider of thee bass line.
In the case of Beethoven’s early Duos for Clarinet and Bassoon, the publication date of “possibly before 1815” shouldn’t mask that this is early music, done with Mozart and Haydn prominently in the foreground—Beethoven even uses the same key of B-flat in Duo No. 3, where he also follows Mozart’s lead in writing a theme-and-variations finale. In the violin-cello arrangement, the bassoon part was already in the tenor clef, and the violin part, in keeping with the clarinet’s range, rarely ventures very high. Therefore the two voices intertwine and mingle more closely than in the Mozart arrangement. This is charming Hausmusik performed with zest and vivacity by Abramov and Miranda. But there’s so little sign of the Beethoven to come that I‘m not surprised to see that some musicologists consider the attribution spurious. (Music publishers before the age of copyright were known to do worse.) I’ll echo a tactful remark made by Lawrence A. Johnson in Fanfare 21:2 about Beethoven’s rarer chamber works without opus. “If much of this material is Beethovenian juvenilia and ephemera, nearly all of these odds and ends are intriguing.”
Besides containing winning performances, this new release is unique in its programming. It also exemplifies the phenomenon of musicians without borders. Miranda, born in 1988 in Venezuela, emigrated to the U.S. as a child and now has a multi-faceted music career in New York City. Abramov, who was born in Azerbaijan in 1989, emigrated to Israel before reaching this country; he serves on the violin faculty of Columbus State University. We shouldn’t take for granted the internationalism of American music. It greatly enriches our lives, of which this CD is a rewarding example. Good sound; slimline cardboard packaging.