> Dvorak Music for Violin and piano 8554730 [TH]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonin DVORAK (1841 – 1904)
Music for Violin and Piano, Vol.2

Ballade in D minor, Op.15, No.1
Slavonic Dance in G minor, Op.46, No.2 (arr. Kreisler)
Slavonic Dance in E minor, Op.72, No.10 (arr. Kreisler)
Slavonic Dance in G major, Op. 72, No.16 (arr. Kreisler)
Silent Woods, Op. 68, No.5
Mazurek in E minor, Op. 49
Nocturne in B major, Op.40
Humoresque, Op.101, No.7
Songs my mother taught me, Op.55, No.4 (arr. Kreisler)
Capriccio (Rondo di Concerto), B 81
Reverie, Op. 85, No. 6 (arr. Paul Klengel)

Qian Zhou (violin), Edmund Battersby (piano)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, May, 1999.
NAXOS 8.554730 [ 54:58 ]

Though the literature for that most popular of professional and amateur duo combinations, violin and piano, contain some of the world’s greatest and most profound music, there is always room for lighter fare. Gathered together here are what might be termed ‘encores’, highly tuneful, disarming pieces that would sit perfectly in a small group or at the end of a ‘heavy’ recital. One only has to look at the violinists who have programmed them over the decades to see in what affection many of these items are held; Heifetz, Elman, Huberman, Stern, Vengerov, and many more, have at some time included Dvorak’s lovely miniatures in their concerts. It probably all started with the man who did much of the arranging and promoting in his own recitals, the great Fritz Kreisler, and with that sort of endorsement, success is virtually guaranteed.

I didn’t catch Volume 1, and I’m not sure how much more material there is to unearth (though I suspect quite a bit), but this instalment is very well performed, and is a greatly enjoyable ‘pick’n’mix’ entertainment. One feels time and time again that an old friend is calling, such is the familiarity of some of these tunes. Obvious candidates include the Slavonic Dance arrangements, which many will know in their original piano duet form, and Songs my mother taught me, which are part of a bigger set of Gypsy Songs of 1880, and, due to their popularity, have been arranged in several other forms.

Of course, the Humoresque Op. 101, could be considered (along with the slow movement of the New World Symphony) to be Dvorak’s most famous tune. Oddly enough, this is one of the few items where I was less than satisfied with the performance here. The talented young Chinese violinist, Qian Zhou, perhaps takes her cue from an older style of portamento playing, where the player freely slides from note to note, but unfortunately her phrasing suffers in the process, and the result is a stop –start disfiguring of the melodic line. The older maestros, who had this style of playing in their blood, show how it should be done.

That said, Zhou’s playing in some of the less familiar pieces, such as the rather melancholy opening Ballade, suffer little in comparison. This piece was written in 1885, after a conducting trip to London, and was a sort of compositional ‘light relief’ after the tiring concert tour. The long romantic phrase that opens the piece is beautifully handled by the two players, and the more dramatic narrative of the central section is not lost on them either. Here Zhou’s partner Edmund Battersby (a name new to me) comes into his own, and though none of the pieces tax his technique to the full, it is good to hear them dispatched with such flair.

Another piece which almost goes beyond the ‘encore’ tag is the Capriccio, thought to be originally for violin and orchestra (a version now lost), and tentatively dated to 1878. I disagree with Keith Anderson in his booklet note when he says the piece is "lacking the distinctive features of Dvorak’s mature style" It is a quite substantial piece of wide contrast and variety, and the melodic content is full of echoes of more familiar Dvorak, including the Sixth Symphony. The performers appear to enjoy themselves enormously here (and for that matter throughout) and the partnership shows great unanimity and understanding.

It’s easy to be superior and dismissive of discs whose contents do not plumb the depths, but a lot of this material is delightful and, at its best, memorable, and I guarantee will nag away in your memory.

The recording is very good, with balance between instruments well judged, and though the playing time is not particularly generous (there could have been another half-dozen items to give the disc greater appeal), it is a perfect ‘dipper’ and well worth a fiver.

Tony Haywood


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