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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Lydia Mordkovitch plays Violin Sonatas
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Sonata No.1 in G major, Op. 78 (1880); Sonata No.2 in A major, Op. 100 (1886); Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 (1888)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata No.1 in F minor, Op. 80 (1946); Sonata No.2 in D major, Op. 94a (1944)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Sonata in A major, Op. post. 162 (D574) (1817); Fantasie in C major, Op. post. 159 (D934) (1827)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op. 105 (1851); Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121 (1851)
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Sonata No.1 in A major, Op. 13 (1876)
Lydia Mordkovitch, violin
Gerhard Oppitz, piano
Recorded at St. Luke's Church, Chelsea, London, October 1984 (Schumann, Strauss, Prokofiev, Fauré) and All Saints' Church, Tooting, London, June 1986 (Brahms and Schubert).
CHANDOS COLLECT 6659(4) [71.44+53.34+79.41+77.49]


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This is a bargain priced box set of Lydia Mordkovitch's violin sonata recordings made for Chandos in the 1980s. I am admirer of her playing, particularly in the English repertoire, Howells, Dyson and Vaughan Williams (the Carlton disc with Julian Milford is a lost classic), none of which is unfortunately represented here. What we are given is a cross-section of continental work with the emphasis heavily on the Central-European tradition, tempered to some extent by the inclusion of Prokofiev and Fauré. This make-up of the compilation, which is a good showcase for the artist, makes sense, especially as Prokofiev is given a separate disc to himself and the Fauré is the early, romantic incarnation of that composer. Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Richard Strauss all have some sort of relation to each other, although some more so than others. My preference here is for the Brahms sonatas, the most advanced musically, obviously by their later dates (cf. Schubert and Schumann) but also in that Nos. 2 and 3 belong to the late flowering of Brahms' genius, the 100/108 opus numbers putting them close to, if slightly before, the clarinet masterworks (quintet, sonatas etc.). The Richard Strauss is, by contrast, a fairly early piece, predating the mid-period bombast (Alpine Symphony, Zarathustra etc.), but still rather florid in comparison to the late "neo-classical" masterpieces like Metamorphosen and the Oboe concerto which are this writer's preference among his works.

The earlier Brahms piece (No.1), written around the same time as the celebrated Violin Concerto, is characterised by two faster outer movements, framing a central Adagio based on his Rain Song (Regenlied). The second, again a three movement piece, had its genesis in the natural world of the lakeside at Thun (Switzerland), reflected in its idyllic music, reminding me at times of Hermann Hesse's book Klingsor's Last Summer, which has a similar setting. The third sonata, more complex, looks forward at the same time as revisiting some of Brahms' past triumphs, highlighted, respectively by the mysterious third movement and virtuosic finale.

Both Prokofiev works follow the alternating "slow-fast-slow-fast" four movement structure, the second (D major) being a rescored version of the flute sonata which, incidentally, was also turned into a "concerto" by the late Christopher Palmer. As you might expect, Mordkovitch does full justice to her fellow Russian's inspirations, and to this listener they represent, by far (maybe the Brahms excepted), the most outstanding music on this set. The booklet quotes from the great David Oistrakh comparing the first movement of the F minor, which he premiered, to "the wind in a graveyard", indicating the depth and profundity of utterance at work here. Perhaps it would have been even more useful to include the composer's other violin sonata, the Op. 115 for unaccompanied violin(s); there was an interesting recording of the latter for "massed" violins, coupled with the aforementioned flute "concerto" on Conifer which you may still be able to find.

I have never been much of an aficionado of either Schubert or Schumann though, of course, there is no denying the brilliance of the former, in particular. Their works included here occupy almost one and a half hours so a potential purchaser does need to take this into account. It is interesting that the coupling of Schubert items features two works published posthumously but written years apart and occupying almost different worlds entirely. The early Sonata features three movements of relatively fast music, the Scherzo preceding the gentle Andantino, whereas the extended one movement structure of the Fantasie, is linked in Jeremy Siepmann's brief but authoritative notes, to the Wanderer Fantasy and an earlier song (Sei mir gegrüsst).

Schumann's first and second sonatas were written within three months in the latter half of 1851 and are relatively late works. The second is almost twice the length of the first and has an additional fourth movement. In both works there are periods of "agitation" but the slow movements, placed second and third respectively, are calmer and more lyrical, that of the second sonata being based on a chorale much beloved of J.S. Bach.

I cannot concur with the booklet notes that Richard Strauss's E flat major sonata is a masterwork but, despite numerous allusions and quotations to/from other composers (Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven and Wagner for starters), it does have considerable charm, coupled with a foretaste, in places, of the future originality and excess of the composer's middle period works.

The recital ends with Fauré, again a nice enough piece but hardly comparable with late masterpieces like the second Piano Quintet and the String Quartet. The fact that the only composer the booklet mentions in comparison is Schumann rather than Debussy or Ravel should indicate fairly clearly where this work was coming from.

On the whole this is a mixed bag; I cannot fault the performances but at least some of the works do not show their composers in their best or most original lights and I couldn't really recommend it as a package if it were offered at full price. However, it is not, and as such it is well worth buying, mainly for the Prokofiev and Brahms but also as a wider overview of the violin sonata from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th.

Neil Horner

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