A musical maverick brought alive by committed performances

Tianwa Yang: Antheil

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: A musical maverick brought alive by committed performances

Musicians: Tianwa Yang (violin) Nicholas Rimmer (piano)

Works: Antheil: Violin Sonatas nos.1–4

Catalogue number: NAXOS 8.559937

George Antheil, the self-styled bad boy of music, wrote three of his four violin sonatas in 1923 and 1924 in Paris, heavily under the influence of Stravinsky. It shows in the opening of the First Sonata, with Tianwa Yang playing dry-as-dust staccatos, then moving into more avant-garde territory, with scrunching on the strings (as directed) and moments of melody with a louche touch. She plays the sinuous exotic melodies of the Andante moderato with sensuous warmth, before punctuating it with more scratchings and extravagant portamentos. After the third-movement Funebre, in which Antheil worries away at a handful of notes, Stravinsky’s influence returns in the final Presto with a riot of rhythmic patterns and moto perpetuo passages, which Yang dashes off with well-controlled abandon.

Antheil called his short one-movement Second Sonata ‘musical cubism’. Yang plays its fractured melodies and slinky tunes, interspersed with fragments of folk music and ragtime, in fine style and with authority – and occasional super-heated vibrato. At the end, Nicholas Rimmer turns from piano to two-hand drums (which he plays very well). The Third Sonata is more melodic, although still featuring Stravinskian obsessive rhythms and motoric piano patterns. Yang’s playing reflects its sad and pensive qualities, and she neatly negotiates the abrupt changes of character.

Antheil wrote his last sonata in 1947 (by which time he had designed a torpedo guidance system with the film star Hedy Lamarr. Yes, really.) Stravinsky is in the past, and this is an attractive, virtuosic showpiece that Yang dispatches with aplomb. The recording is close and warm.