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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata in B minor (1916-17)
Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968)

Violin Sonata in A major (1918-19)
Elmar Oliveira (violin)
Robert Koenig (piano)
Recorded 10th April 1998
ARTEK AR-0001-2 [54.36]


In the liner notes to this satisfying disc Elmar Oliveira mentions that two recordings inspired his interest in the sonatas of Respighi and Pizzetti – those, respectively, by Heifetz and Menuhin. It reflects something of the house style of Artek, who encourage their artists to link performance with recollection of past recordings and musicians. It’s true though that these two violinists were very closely associated with the sonatas – after Menuhin in 1938 no one returned to the Pizzetti until Rasonyi and Ertungealp on Marco Polo in 1994. Oliveira and Koenig mark the third recording. The Respighi has been taken up on occasion by many great musicians but great recordings are fewer on the ground - I have soft spots, apart from Heifetz, for Josef Suk (who recorded it twice, firstly with Panenka in 1953 and then with Hála in 1980) and a trio of Americans - Rosand, Shumsky and Kaufman.

In the Wartime Respighi – the Pizzetti was written two years later – a contemporary of Ireland’s A minor sonata, we feel the turbulent and kinetic drama of a violinist-composer writing in media res. The obsessive and occasionally violent aggression of the contours of the violin line encourage great depth of tone fro Oliveira (he digs deep into the G string) and he maintains a consistently virile and inflected series of shapings. His soaring lyricism is projected and maintained with considerable distinction and his playing in the higher positions is, with his double-stopping, commendable. Curiously I was reminded in passing moments of Elgar’s almost contemporaneous Sonata. The slow movement opens with the piano’s delicate tracery, the violin soaring aloft with effortless ascent and becoming subsequently obsessive and unsettled and agitated. Oliveira conveys a communing depth and dignity as the movement continues, Robert Koenig’s rapport an indissoluble component in the movement’s success, the burgeoning not untroubled lyricism affecting. The Passacaglia finale undoes all that. Stern and remorseless passagework takes the work in an altogether different direction before Respighi introduces and develops some quirky little rhythmic games between violin and piano, some lyrical and some effusive. The work ends in a spirit of stoical decisiveness, well conveyed by Oliveira and Koenig.

Written at the end of the First War the Pizzetti opens pensively with the violin above a hypnotic, haunting and repetitious piano line. A deeply expressive second subject emerges which manages to sustain poetic and lyric intensity at a relatively slow tempo. Indeed the ability of both men successfully to gauge the elasticity of the line here is excellent. The meditatively vocal quality of the beautiful Preghiera second movement is given added plangency by the little unsettled intensities of the piano left hand. Oliveira plays this movement with a veiled, smoky tone. Contrasted with the interior intensity of this movement’s prayer for the dead is the finale’s fluttering and dancing vivacity (marked Vivo e Fresco), which is broadly consolingly optimistic, though it still finds time for some occasional hints of loss in its fabric of dance-like exultation.

This is a splendid survey of Italian Great War sonatas. It gives renewed life to the Pizzetti, a work that deserves far more than an occasional hearing, and joins fine company in the Respighi. Fine production values here from Artek, despite the relatively poor playing time, and a strong recommendation for the performances.

Jonathan Woolf

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