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Scandinavia: Amanda Maier: Sonata in B minor for Violin and Piano; Tor Aulim: Four Watercolors (Fyra Akvarelier) for Violin and Piano; & Edvard Grieg: Sonata No. 1, in F, for Violin and Piano. Gregory Maytan, violin, and Nicole Lee, piano. Recorded in Duesenberg Recital Hall at Valparaiso University, January 2-5, 2008, http://cdbaby.com/cd/maytanlee, $14.90, publisher unknown, 10 tracks, 58 minutes.
This CD is both a revelation and a trio of performances of great artistry. It enables the listener to become acquainted with the virtually unknown works of three Scandinavian composers. It offers an inspiring example of the heights which two excellent musicians may attain when they play together with such skill and care that the two of them become one superb artist. Moreover, it introduces lovers of great violin playing to the beautiful, dynamic performance of a young player whose formidable technique coaxes from his instrument a powerful, warm sound in all registers. There are rich, expressive legato passages moving from the lowest to the highest register, high notes which can be clearly heard even under the lightest bowstrokes, and perfect intonation. Maytan's greatest artistic strength, however, is his ability to play with great expression, from the most tender phrases to the most passionate, dramatic ones.
The two players on this recording have impressive academic credentials. Gregory Maytan started his violin studies early in his native Sweden. He holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Indiana University and is presently an Assistant Professor of Music at Valparaiso University. According to information on Scandinavia's recording jacket, Maytan found, upon coming to the United States, that most of the music he had learned as a young student was not known here, and one of his goals has been to make sure that this lack of appreciation of the music he loves will not last. Nicole Lee, the gifted pianist performing with Maytan on this CD, holds the Master of Music degree from the University of Southern California. She accompanies students and faculty at Valparaiso. In addition to their academic work, both these experienced musicians perform extensively in the United States and in many places abroad.
The music on this recording is not known to many Romantic music aficionados in Europe or the Americas. Indeed, it is not well known even in Scandinavia. The information about the musical output of Amanda Maier (1853-1894) and Tor Aulim (1866-1914) and one unknown piece by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), found in a revealing essay Maytan has included on his website, makes me wonder how such beautiful music could go unnoticed, especially by so many people in the part of the world in which it was written. Those who hear this recording will be touched by the warmth, artistic intelligence and beauty of the music on it and will find themselves returning to it many times.
According to Maytan, the music of Amanda Maier shows her to have been a composer of many talents. He loved her B minor violin sonata, the first piece on this disc, from his first acquaintance with it, but he was surprised to learn, after performing it at the Royal University of Stockholm, that no one had ever heard it before. Like all of her work, he points out, the B minor sonata is a gem. But he also says that although Maier was Swedish, nothing about this sonata is Swedish. Rather, it has much more in common with the music of Schumann and Mendelssohn, whose influences she came under during her studies and her time in Leipzig, than with any Scandinavian music.
Maytan also comments that Tor Aulim, another composer whose pieces on this disc are not familiar even in his own country, was a man of many related professions — composer, teacher, conductor and quartet musician. Aulim's four Watercolors — "Idyll," "Humoresk," "Wiegenlied," and "Polska" — appeal particularly to Maytan, who hears in them the folk melodies and life events so deeply a part of Swedish culture. According to Maytan, the first movement conveys the freshness and beauty of a day in spring; the third is based "on a kind of lullaby a mother would sing to her child after a long day working on the farm"; the last is a festive Swedish dance.
Edvard Grieg, unlike the two other composers, has a body of work that is familiar all over the world. Maytan therefore chose to include on this disc Grieg's first violin sonata, in F, which is not well known. In this composition, Grieg shows himself making a break from the Germanic influences he acquired while studying in Leipzig and incorporating characteristics of Norwegian folk music. We can hear this in the sonata's second movement, in which the violin skillfully imitates the hardanger fiddle, a Norwegian folk instrument Maytan describes as capable of producing a peculiar droning sound made by open strings.
The caliber of the performance of Maytan and Lee on this recording is as polished as any listener could desire. If this were not so, I would have had far less appreciation for the unfamiliar music Maytan so sincerely wants me, and indeed anyone who hears it, to value as he does. These two well-met players bring each work on this disc to vibrant life. Their intellectual and emotional understanding of the works they perform is complete; their phrases are shaped the same way because they understand them the same way, and they approach each instance of rubato with the same realization of musical arrival that makes the listener sigh with them as they return to the tempo that brought them to this crucial musical point. Their technically-excellent playing is expressive, passionate, at times very dynamic, at others very tender, and always the essence of Romantic music.
I gladly recommend this CD for those who, like me, are often carried away by the work of great artists and the wonder of great music, be it familiar or not.