Solo: Works of Telemann, Bach, Schubert, Piazzolla; Tomas Cotik, violin


CD Review
Solo: Works of Telemann, Bach, Schubert, Piazzolla; Tomas Cotik, violin.
Centaur CD CRC3374

Three of the solo violin sonatas of Georg Philipp Telemann appear on this CD: Bb major, B minor, and D major. In general, the movements of these works alternate between strict counterpoint and freer fantasia forms. Mr. Cotik very much takes this to heart in his playing, performing the contrapuntal movements with absolute concentration on the polyphony, and contrasting this with the sense of abandon he gives to the fantasia movements. I marvel at the technical skill which effortlessly encompasses these deeply contrasting styles. And, though I initially felt his tempo in the Siciliana of the B minor was perhaps a bit slow and concentrated, the liveliness of the following Vivace showed consistent conception, especially as he combines the moods of each movement in the concluding Allegro. Programming the relative major D major sonata after this, a work where the moods are transposed (fast-slow now) was a technical as well as expressive master stroke.

As excellent as the Telemann sonatas are, within a minute or so of entering the Bach C major sonata we know we are in a different world. In his time, Bach used (or implied) so many of the harmonies which came afterwards in music that we might say that all music composed subsequently is, in some sense, redundant. Cotik highlights the harmonic adventurousness of the first movement, bringing a Poulenc-ian (yes!) wistfulness to some of the cluster diatonic harmony, shifting back into high polyphony when necessary. The sheer weight of the following Fuga demands the kind of concentration equal to any of the composer’s grandest solo movements. Bach here effortlessly mixes what was generally separate in the Telemann: strict fugue, and passages which are apotheoses of improvisatory textures. Cotik thoroughly understands all of this: the chromatic subtleties, the diatonic rhapsodies, and the overall nobility of this work. The Largo which follows is almost like a Praeludium, but before the fugue; a stately chaconne-like movement, where Cotik shapes phrases in accord with the dignity of the music. The concluding Allegro Assai is sheer improvisation, Tomas bringing the performance aplomb apparent in other similar movements earlier in the disk to this one.

Tiny wisps of the dance. Thus are the little-known Schubert Ländler included from tracks 15-18. Each work—many less than a minute—evoke not only the spirit of the composer who wrote more dance tunes than most other composers, but also the atmosphere of the larger culture of which they were a part. As Mr. Cotik states in his liner notes, “These Ländler…show traces of …Gemuetlichkeit from the Biedermeier period. This was a period when Viennese society was turned inward, to home and family, to innocent nonpolitical activities, as a distraction to avoid the oppression of the repressive police state ruled by Emperor Francis after Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna”. Gemuetlichkeit is a quality often derided in our contemporary culture, to which such stuff is as alien as the air of another planet. Considering the composer, and the culture of the time, these little works stand as precious jewels of culture in a threatened society and, with their simple yet consummate elegance, show how civilization may persevere in the face of barbarism. Tomas’ interpretation of these naked works is wistful yet swinging, danceable yet thoughtful. He brings much of the ‘apotheosis of the dance’ quality to them that he brought to the Allegro Assai movement of the Bach.

On to Piazzolla. That great musician of Mr. Cotik’s homeland has figured prominently in Tomas’ performing career, and the passion always shows in his performances. These difficult tango-based Études round out a CD full of the rhythms of the dance, be they rhapsodic or polyphonic. Piazzolla’s Études contain both, in the spirit of the Telemann and especially the Bach. Cotik brings a technique to these pieces that is similar, yet distinctly different from those earlier essays. This dance is the tango, a highly-syncopated dance form which shows the influence of a popular music perhaps more rhythmically developed than the 18th and 19th-century forms of the composers covered so far. Thus, the range of string techniques has been broadened, notably the inclusion of the subtle glissandi which characterize Tango. I particularly like N° 4, which comes closest to a true ‘dance apotheosis’ in its melancholy counterpoint reminiscent of the Adagio from Khatchaturian’s Gayane suite. What is most touching about Cotik’s playing here is the occasional subtle stuttering of the bow—not a spiccato, sautille, or jete–at the end of a phrase, as if the emotion momentarily (and deliberately) overwhelms the technique.
Good to see Cotik conclude his survey with these works, as they show how dance–and dance polyphony–have evolved through Telemann, Bach, Schubert, and Piazzolla. The homophony of dance, and the polyphony of the fugue and related contrapuntal forms have mixed well in the works of composers great and small, and works like the Piazzolla ensure that such composition will carry on into the future.
Gregory Hall

Reprinted by permission of CRS Inc.  (  Inquiries about recordings/concerts/master classes may be directed to the CRS web page.