Duo Figer-Khanina: Unearthing


Unearthing is the debut recording by Duo Figer Khanina, a violin and piano duo that focuses on promoting unsung repertoire, and includes seldom heard works by Grazyna Baciewicz, Rodrigo, and Malcolm Arnold, alongside Poulenc's vigorous Sonata.


Unearthing is the debut recording by Duo Figer Khanina, a violin and piano duo that focuses on promoting unsung repertoire. This recording features four mid-century works by Poulenc, Baciewicz, Arnold, and Rodrigo that, had political and aesthetic environments been different, may have taken a more prominent role in the chamber repertoire.

Recorded by: Ryan Streber www.oktavenaudio.com

Digital editing, Mixing, Post-Production: Ryan Streber
CD Design:Oshrat Ben-Isaac
Photography: Arthur Moeller
Piano Technician: Arlan Harris www.arlanharris.com

All works recorded at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY.
Bacewicz and Arnold recorded November 26-27, 2010
Poulenc recorded January 30, 2011
Rodrigo recorded May 22, 2011

This recording was aided by a generous grant from the Ronen Foundation of America

Special thanks to Yaffa Israeli, Dan Lippel, Ryan Streber, Oshrat Ben-Isaac, Danielle Reed, Hagai Shaham, Arthur Moeller and Ittai Shapira.

Duo Figer-Khanina

Praised for their “devotion and original programming” by the Israeli press, for their “passion and eloquence” by the Pennsylvania press, and for being a “collaboration of equals” by the NY press, Duo Figer-Khanina is a young and dynamic ensemble, formed with the goal of exploring the rarely played repertoire composed for this ensemble. The duo presents unique and innovative programs, comprised of the traditional duo repertoire, rarely performed pieces and new music. The ensemble has recorded recitals to radio stations in Israel and the U.S and was featured on WQXR New York. Founded in 2006, the duo performs regularly in Europe, Israel and North America. Some of their recent engagements include a recital at the Trinity Church "Concerts at One" series, a recital at the Bach Festival of "Con Vivo Jersey City", a collaboration with the "Adama" dance company and a recital of Israeli music at the "Zlilim Ba'Midbar" Festival in the Negev Desert. 

Anna Khanina’s career spans the continents of Asia, Europe and North America, where she regularly appears as a soloist with orchestras and chamber ensembles. 
Among her many awards are the prizes at the Val Tidone International Piano Competition, the Second International Piano Competition in Panama, the Seventh International Competition Ciutat de Carlet, the Grieg Competition in Oslo, the Nueva Acropolis Competition in Madrid and the Clasica Nova Competition in Hannover. Guest appearances include engagements at the Brunswick Classix Festival in Braunschweig, at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Norfolk Festival as well as concert tours in Novgorod, Bratsk, Moscow, Braunschweig, Helmstedt, Wolfenbuttel, Karlsruhe, Hannover, Magdeburg and throughout the United States.
Ms.Khanina studied at the Gnessin Academy of Music in Moscow, Russia, before continuing her studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover, the Chicago College of Performing Arts and the Stony Brook University. Her teachers include Gilbert Kalish, Solomon Mikowsky, Bernd Goetzke, Valentina Zwerewa and Lidia Grigorjeva.




This curious and interesting disc combines one well-known piece (the Poulenc), lesser-known works by two famous composers, and one composer who is herself lesser known. The odd composer out is Graźyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), whose fourth violin sonata was composed in 1949, a point by which Poland had escaped Nazi persecution only to be dominated by Soviet persecution. Duo Figer-Khanina consists of violinist Guy Figer and pianist Anna Khanina, two young artists whose combined talents have plenty of fire and energy.

The Poulenc sonata is probably the best-known work on this disc, written for violinist Ginette Niveau who died in a plane crash in 1949. It is a highly virtuosic piece, full of flashy runs and turns. Dedicated to Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the final movement in particular has a somewhat Spanish, if modernist, feel to it, particularly the unexpected slow ending. There are many other recordings to choose from here, particularly those of Arabella Steinbacher on Orfeo 739081 (praised in these pages by Robert Maxham) and my own personal favorite, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Anne-Marie McDermott on NSS Music 1. One of the intriguing things about Figer’s playing is his very dark, almost viola-like tone. He can apparently brighten it at will, but returns to his essentially dark sound even in the highest and flightiest passages.

Bacewicz’s sonata is in the neo-classic style that was the preferred artistic mode of Stalin and his bureaucrats. It incorporates a number of rhythms related to Polish folk music, but the almost modal harmonic treatment bring it closer in feeling to Dohnányi or Bartók. Annotator Dan Lippel mentions that Bacewicz’s later style reflected an incorporation of 12-tone technique, and wonders what her earlier work would sound like had she not been “forced” to write more accessible music, to which I counter with another question: Who cares? Is this sonata not good music as it is? Of course it is. Would it be a “better,” or more interesting, if it were 12-tone? No. Can it not be enjoyed on its own terms? Certainly it can. And the duo’s performance, with great lyricism and full understanding of the idiom, does full justice to the music, particularly in the mysterious-sounding final pages of the opening movement, and an equally mysterious, smoldering Andante. To me, there are many personal statements of mood and expression in this music. Yet even the busy Scherzo has a certain questioning feel to it, with its asymmetric rhythmic cells and a theme that bounces around the scale. Honestly, I found the last movement the least interesting. Bacewicz sounded as if she were just noodling around scales to fill space. There are only four other recordings of this work currently available, but the most accessible—Joanna Kurkowicz on Chandos 10250—was chastised by Barry Brenesal in Fanfare 28:5 for her lack of color or a bold attack. There is nothing tentative about Figer’s attack here.

Malcolm Arnold’s pieces were written for Yehudi Menuhin to perform as encores during his American tour of 1964. Lippel suggests that the differing, sometimes-exotic musical forms used here, such as the Raga-like second movement, reflects Menuhin’s wide-ranging musical interests. Perhaps that is so. The fifth piece, “Moto perpetuo,” has strong jazz overtones, so much so that it almost sounds like an improvised piece. Only two other recordings are around, one of them an excellent performance by the Nash Ensemble on Helios 55071, but this one has some extra zing.

Lippel again claims “neo-classic” roots for Rodrigo’s Sonata Pimpante, but whatever its form the music is ingenious and highly original. Among other little touches, he has the violin play in a “see-saw” manner for a few bars before taking off in a different direction. There are numerous key changes, impressionistic touches in the second movement, and vivacious rhythms. There are also many close minor seconds, and the liner notes mention impressionistic piano quintuplet arpeggios in the second movement. Judging from Arkivmusic, there do not seem to be other recordings of this piece currently in the catalog.

With the exception of the Bacewicz, which is a fairly moody piece, this is a vigorous and thrilling recital by a young piano-violin duo who may have a very big future ahead of them. If in my notes I have slighted Khanina’s pianism, rest assured that it was not for lack of interest, merely that Figer’s exciting, assertive playing is so often at the fore. It takes a special talent to accompany such a firebrand without losing focus, and Khanina sustains interest throughout.

-Lynn René Bayley

Related Albums