Genuin Musikproduktion the Leipzig-based independent record label
was founded in 1998 by two sound engineers from Detmold, Holger
Busse and Alfredo Lasheras Hakobian. This Genuin release is part
of the label’s continuing Un!erhört series: world premiere recordings
of rare chamber music. Other releases include the complete sonatas
and other works for piano of Cyril Scott and the complete piano
music of Vincent d’Indy.
Ilona Then-Bergh and pianist Michael Schäfer are the performers
on what is claimed to be the first complete recording of Respighi’s
works for violin and piano. Ilona Then-Bergh from the age of
19 was appointed as first concert-mistress of the Bavarian State
Orchestra and later served in the same role with the Symphonieorchester
des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Then-Bergh now focuses exclusively
on chamber music. Pianist Michael Schäfer has a penchant for
recording unusual repertoire of neglected and forgotten composers.
He is a member of various chamber music groups, plays as a soloist
and also as an accompanist on concert platforms. A professor
at the Munich State Conservatory, Schäfer also gives piano masterclasses.
reputation rests mainly on the popularity of his trilogy of
orchestral tone poems in which he interpreted different aspects
of Rome: Fountains of Rome (1917), Pines of Rome (1924)
and Roman Festivals (1929). Respighi was fascinated by
and certainly identified himself with early music. Well known
in the repertoire are his three orchestral suites Ancient
Dances and Airs which are modern arrangements of pieces
for lute from the Italian and French Renaissance and by early
Violin Sonata in B minor was first performed in Bologna
in March 1918. It is cast in three substantial movements
and is the major work of all his compositions for violin and
piano. Respighi’s prowess as violinist clearly had an influence
on this forceful and rhapsodic, late-Romantic score dating from
the same time Fountains of Rome. I note that the period
around 1917 was highly productive for violin sonatas as in addition
to Respighi's score composers Debussy, Fauré, Pfitzner, Ireland,
Dunhill, Howells and Roslavetz were also active producing violin
sonatas at this time.
Violin Sonata is a significant work and deserves to have a major
place in the repertoire. Then-Bergh and Schäfer perform it with
disciplined musicianship and integrity and with extraordinary
adroitness and power. In the dense and agitated opening Moderato
the duo communicate a dramatic and intense reading of high emotional
power. They provide a reading of sheer intensity in the emotional
anguish and turmoil of the central movement Andante espressivo.
I loved the vigorous and immediate playing in the densely concentrated
and robust final movement Passacaglia - Allegro moderato
distinguished violinist Jascha Heifetz championed Respighi’s
Violin Sonata and I understand that he recorded the work around
1950 with pianist Emanuel Bay for RCA Victor Red Seal. The catalogue
contains a substantial number of versions of the sonata and
those most likely to be encountered are from: Kyung-Wha Chung
and pianist Krystian Zimerman, recorded in 1994, on Deutsche
Grammophon 457 907-2 and 474 558-2; Lydia Mordkovitch and pianist
Clifford Benson recorded the work for Chandos on CHAN9351; Ruggero
Marchesi and pianist Roberto Guglielmo on the Mediterraneo label;
Oscar Shumsky and pianist Artur Balsam on the Biddulph label’s
‘The historical studio recordings from 1940s to 1950s’; Elmar
Oliveira and pianist Robert Koenig on Artek-0001; Ingolf Turban
and pianist Katia Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, recorded in Stuttgart
in 2001, on Claves 50-2109 and Anne Sophie Mutter with her pianist
Lambert Orkis on ‘Recital 2000’ Deutsche Grammophon 469 503-2.
I have not been able to make comparison with any of these.
around 1927 the cycle of Cinque Pezzi are described
in the booklet notes as, “… small tone paintings which never
stray from a salon atmosphere…” To dismiss these Cinque
Pezzi in this way does not do justice to their virtuosic
quality and considerable emotional depth. Then-Bergh and Schäfer
are serious and intense in the Romanza and vivacious
and cheerful in the Aubade. I can’t agree with the view
of the writer who describes the Aubade as, “imbued
with a French, impressionist buoyancy.” The players
are passionate and entrancing in the Madrigale and provide
a delicate sense of reticence in the Berceuse. I loved
the confidence of Then-Bergh and Schäfer in the Humoresque
where there is a positive sense of wanting to show-off.
set of Sei Pezzi for violin and piano were written around
1922. In these short and colourful scores it seems that Respighi
is endeavouring to position each piece in relation to each other
as if they were paintings hanging in a gallery. Then-Bergh and
Schäfer provide a highly attractive autumnal feel to the Berceuse.
They are searching and forlorn in the Melodia and their
reading of the Leggenda contains a similar feeling of
despondency. I was impressed with their playing in the Valse
caressante evocative of dancing to a Viennese café orchestra.
While the Serenata is soothing and reflective, in the
Aria the players effortlessly adjust to serious and determined
problems with the dry and clear sound quality with an impressive
balance. The concise booklet notes are reasonably interesting
without being especially informative. First class playing then
and there is something special about Respighi’s sonata here revealed
as a score that deserves wider recognition.