Firstly a word about
matters geographical. Eisler was born
in Leipzig but his family moved to Vienna
when he was three. Bruno Walter was
born in Berlin. So only Kurt Roger was
Viennese born and it might have been
more accurate, if increasingly cumbersome,
to call the disc something along the
lines of "Violin Sonatas, only
one of which was written in Vienna,
written by Jewish composers only one
of whom was born there." The racial
matter is a further specialization;
some indeed may find the raison d'être
for the whole thing flimsy if not unhelpful.
For record collectors,
as opposed to racial and/or Austro-German
specialists, there are three sonatas
to get to grips with. Eisler’s is the
best known, a product of his years of
political commitment and written the
year before his emigration to America.
It’s a compact eleven-minute, three-movement
work, one that fuses baroque procedure
with finely deployed lyricism and a
smattering of Eisler’s agit-prop march
rhythms. The finale impresses most perhaps
in its strenuously clean-limbed approach,
though the central movement does have
a brief but not terse lyric curve.
Kurt Roger was born
in 1895. As with Eisler he emigrated
to the United States in 1938 where he
had a distinguished academic career.
His sonata was written in New York in
1944 but not premiered until a Washington
performance in 1958. It must have seemed
defiantly romanticised as the 1960s
beckoned. The lyric nostalgia is palpable
as is thankfully a non-cloying warmth,
which is kept on its toes by some harmonically
spiced piano writing. Though a contemporary
critic spoke of a "sardonic"
Allegretto it doesn’t sound much like
it in this performance – rather attractively
witty actually. The slow movement is
strongly etched and Shahan resists the
temptation to dig into the string and
give us some voluptuous vibrato – a
wise musical decision. The rhythmic
zest of the finale is delightful.
Finally there is Bruno
Walter’s Sonata. This is the one "Viennese"
sonata. More of Walter’s music is being
recorded of late but though big and
imposing, this sonata didn’t make much
of an impression on me. The idiom is
loosely Brahmsian but it’s more interested
in rhapsodic lyricism than engaged in
variational development – in that respect
it’s not unlike the contemporaneous
chamber works of Emanuel Moór.
Unlike Moór however Walter is
less focused and has a tendency toward
relative gigantism and over-reliance
on a "Fate" motif. Themes
remain short breathed though there’s
a glorious dolce passage in the
central movement at around 5:30 that’s
strongly Mahlerian. The finale is rather
garrulous but there are some uplifting
and lively moments.
have been hanging around for quite some
time now - maybe the increasing visibility
of the Shahan-Erez duo has encouraged
their release now. They were recorded
at the Stadttheater Lindau, in March
2000. Whatever the reason these are
highly persuasive and imaginative performances,
finely balanced between expressive extroversion
and a rueful nostalgia. They’re also
well recorded, but the notes are patchy.