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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Sonata in E minor Op.82 (1918) [25.02]
Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)

Violin Sonata in E minor Op.29 (1891) [27.53]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1892-1953)

Five Melodies for violin and piano Op.35 bis (1925) [14.24]
Gerald Itzkoff (violin)
Philip Amalong (piano)
Recorded at the Crain Residence, Cincinnati, March 2004
TITANIC TI265 [67.38]

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Gerald Itzkoff is a well-respected American orchestral player who has made the occasional soloistic foray and Philip Amalong is an experienced chamber musician. They join forces on this slightly odd CD to essay two late-romantic sonatas and Prokofievís Five Melodies. I say odd because it was recorded in whatís described as the Crain Residence, Cincinnati, which I assume is American for a domestic house. It sounds like a music room or studio but not one thatís particularly sympathetic to recording music or at least not here. But letís come to the acoustic in a moment.

The most arresting thing here is the Busoni. I share Itzkoffís bemusement, as related in his liner notes, as to why more violinists havenít taken up this work. Some have played the Second Ė Szigeti was a fervent admirer and left a recording Ė but you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of recordings this sonata garnered in the eighty odd years since it was written, up until the CD age. Things are little better even now and I doubt there are more than four recordings of it in the catalogue. So itís full marks to this duo for disinterring it from the cabinet of discarded scores and for playing it with diligence and care. They catch something of the sheer dynamism of the outer movements but they are just as careful not to overbalance the slow movement. This has something of a funereal tread, one thatís released with remarkable lyricism and sweetness towards the movementís climax, and it unfolds here with a grave gentleness. Elsewhere some more heft and timbral variety would have paid dividends.

The Elgar Sonata has, like Mahler, come into its own. Gone are the days when you never heard it, or when it was written off as note-spinning Brahms or when you had to dig out a library copy because there was nothing in print. Itzkoff has the right instincts for this work. Heís no slouch when it comes to tempi, unlike some droopy drawers fiddle players I could mention, and one senses he sees things directionally, that he takes the long paragraphal view rather than savouring incidental beauties. That said heís not climactic enough at the end of the first movement. His pizzicati donít ring out in the second and thereís an uncomfortable moment at 2.20 when he switches from pizzicato to arco and comes unstuck. Thereís also not enough colour in his tone and despite his obvious affinities not much conveyed intimacy. The tempo in the finale is a good one, the reminiscence of the second movement theme is not indulged and one can hear a lot of piano detail here and throughout.

The Prokofiev goes well enough. That said thereís a certain lassitude in his approach to the opening Andante and the pizzicati in the lento are surely too quiet; the Animato third piece is a touch steady.

Which brings us to the recording which is unfortunately swimmy, swirly and ill-focused; the violin seems to recede in the Elgar and the piano is Ė or as recorded is Ė clangourous and rather unattractive. Amalong tends to bang in the Elgar too often. So as a calling card this disc showcases some stylistic affinities and promotes a chamber duo who are attuned to each otherís playing. The Busoni should make others pay heed and for that act of proselytising the Itzkoff-Amalong duo earn respect.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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