Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Violin Sonata in A.
Violin Sonata in E flat, Op. 18.
Nikolai Madojan (violin); Elisabeth Westenholz (piano).
Kontrapunkt 32311 [56'44] [DDD]

These two sonatas are almost exactly contemporaneous (the Franck was written in 1886, the Strauss in 1887/8), but come from opposite ends of the composers' lives. They make for an interesting pairing, showing two different but complementary reactions to Romanticism: it is a pairing already explored by David Grimal and Georges Pludermacher on Harmonia Mundi HMN711681.

The Franck is presented first, perhaps a little unfairly on the Strauss. Madojan and Westenholz are at their most successful in the first movement. The dreamy piano chords of the opening are well-placed, and Madojan injects something akin to wistfulness into his opening paragraphs. But neither can sustain the argument, and both just miss setting up the evocative atmosphere at the heart of this movement. There is little trace of abandon from the pianist in the second movement, who uses only tiny amounts of pedal (as if, paradoxically, to emphasise the dry acoustic in which he has been placed). The Recitativo-Fantasia emerges as diffuse and terminally lethargic, and there is little or no cumulative energy to the finale. To enter a field which includes such recordings as Perlman's (with Argerich, no less, on EMI CDC5 56815-2) or Mutter's ('The Berlin Recital', DG 445 826-2) with an interpretation of this sort is folly.

The Strauss Violin Sonata has not enjoyed the popularity of the Franck. It is hardly surprising: it is perhaps unfair to call it juvenilia, but neither does it come close to exhibiting the mastery of Strauss' later achievements. It has to be said that Westenholz' variety of touch eclipses Madojan's somewhat lacklustre account of the solo part in the long first movement, but both degenerate into a competent run-through for the rest of the piece. If it is early Strauss that appeals, Sarah Chang's coupling of the Sonata with the Violin Concerto, Op. 8 (accompanied in the sonata by Wolfgang Sawallisch, who conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Concerto on EMI CDC5 56870-2) is a much better bet: the sound is also infinitely superior. Chang injects a measure of conviction into the performance that Madojan cannot hope to match.

Very disappointing. The insert notes are acceptable, but the drab presentation matches the dull performances.


Colin Clarke



If in difficulties getting the disc it can be obtained in the UK direct from Discovery at:

Discovery Records Ltd
phone 01672 563931
fax 01672 563934  
or from Kontrapunkt at

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