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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata P110 (1917) [26:18]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)

Violin Sonata (1921) [18:04]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Violin Sonata Op.18 (1888) [26:39]
Frank Almond (violin)
William Wolfram (piano)
rec. Milwaukee Arts Centre, WI, July 2005.
AVIE AV 2113 [71:33]

Attractive though the programme seems, a number of things conspire against it. Firstly the venue and recording together produce a rather airless and clinical acoustic. Together this works against violinist Frank Almond whose endemically tense vibrato is made to sound even more so. It means that light and shade are badly missing and the ear gets progressively more tired. It’s unfortunate that Almond and Wolfram, two good musicians, are the unlucky recipients of these problems but even do I would have struggled to recommend their performances.

The reading of the Respighi is rather unvarnished – except for some rather doubtful moments of excessive emoting early on from Almond. Phrasing is insufficiently coloured and contoured. Wolfram really digs into the Passacaglia but Almond’s wary entrance tends to dissipate tension and things rarely catch fire. Players as diverse as Shumsky, Suk, Rosand and Heifetz have all brought a rich array of tone colours and perspectives to this work and brought it joyously to life.

Similarly in the Janáček. Here the jagged folkloric elements are underplayed in favour of a slightly sentimentalised approach. I enjoyed the resinous attacks in the finale – here they really do play with drama and drive – but the echo effects aren’t right and the sonata doesn’t quite hang together. Suk and Panenka are the obvious source of comparison but non-Czech partnerships have shown mastery here as well.

The Strauss, given the foregoing, probably receives the best playing. True there’s little of the classic lift and ardour of a Neveu here but nor is there the rather withdrawn and limp kind of playing that this sonata has called forth recently (no names). I can’t say that there is really much in the way of sensuous or romantic projection but I’d wager Almond has listened to a classic performance; I detect Heifetz slides in the first movement.

Of the two players it’s Wolfram who emerges as the one with the greater personality but even he is thwarted by the recording. This is a feature that rather did for the last recording of theirs that I heard, the Brahms sonatas on Boolean I’m afraid the Almond-Wolfram duo and their unfortunate recording venues continue to frustrate me.

Jonathan Woolf


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