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Viennese Jewish Composers – Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)

Violin Sonata Die Reisesonate (1937) [10:51]
Kurt ROGER (1895-1966)

Violin Sonata (1944) [18:54]
Bruno WALTER (1876-1962)

Violin Sonata (1909) [33:24]
Hagai Shahan (violin)
Arnon Erez (piano)
rec. Stadttheater Lindau, March 2000
TALENT DOM 2910 93 [63:56]


Firstly a word about matters geographical. Eisler was born in Leipzig but his family moved to Vienna when he was three. Bruno Walter was born in Berlin. So only Kurt Roger was Viennese born and it might have been more accurate, if increasingly cumbersome, to call the disc something along the lines of "Violin Sonatas, only one of which was written in Vienna, written by Jewish composers only one of whom was born there." The racial matter is a further specialization; some indeed may find the raison d'être for the whole thing flimsy if not unhelpful.

For record collectors, as opposed to racial and/or Austro-German specialists, there are three sonatas to get to grips with. Eisler’s is the best known, a product of his years of political commitment and written the year before his emigration to America. It’s a compact eleven-minute, three-movement work, one that fuses baroque procedure with finely deployed lyricism and a smattering of Eisler’s agit-prop march rhythms. The finale impresses most perhaps in its strenuously clean-limbed approach, though the central movement does have a brief but not terse lyric curve.

Kurt Roger was born in 1895. As with Eisler he emigrated to the United States in 1938 where he had a distinguished academic career. His sonata was written in New York in 1944 but not premiered until a Washington performance in 1958. It must have seemed defiantly romanticised as the 1960s beckoned. The lyric nostalgia is palpable as is thankfully a non-cloying warmth, which is kept on its toes by some harmonically spiced piano writing. Though a contemporary critic spoke of a "sardonic" Allegretto it doesn’t sound much like it in this performance – rather attractively witty actually. The slow movement is strongly etched and Shahan resists the temptation to dig into the string and give us some voluptuous vibrato – a wise musical decision. The rhythmic zest of the finale is delightful.

Finally there is Bruno Walter’s Sonata. This is the one "Viennese" sonata. More of Walter’s music is being recorded of late but though big and imposing, this sonata didn’t make much of an impression on me. The idiom is loosely Brahmsian but it’s more interested in rhapsodic lyricism than engaged in variational development – in that respect it’s not unlike the contemporaneous chamber works of Emanuel Moór. Unlike Moór however Walter is less focused and has a tendency toward relative gigantism and over-reliance on a "Fate" motif. Themes remain short breathed though there’s a glorious dolce passage in the central movement at around 5:30 that’s strongly Mahlerian. The finale is rather garrulous but there are some uplifting and lively moments.

These performances have been hanging around for quite some time now - maybe the increasing visibility of the Shahan-Erez duo has encouraged their release now. They were recorded at the Stadttheater Lindau, in March 2000. Whatever the reason these are highly persuasive and imaginative performances, finely balanced between expressive extroversion and a rueful nostalgia. They’re also well recorded, but the notes are patchy.

Jonathan Woolf



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