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Violin Sonatas
CD 1
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.31 (1946/47) [17:38]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Sonata in E major (1935) [10:33]
Max REGER (1873–1916)
Violin Sonata in C minor, Op.139 (1915) [38:41]
CD 2
Wilhelm FURTWÄNGLER (1886-1954)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor (1935) [57:31]
Bettina Boller (violin)
Walter Prossnitz (piano)
rec. Alte Kirche, Boswil, Switzerland. 19-21 August 2007 (CD1), 21-23 November 2007 (CD2). DDD
GUILD GMCD7326/7 [66:58 + 57:31]



Experience Classicsonline

Performances and recordings of twentieth-century violin sonatas of the late-Romantic Germanic school are rare birds indeed. One could be excused for thinking that the genre ended with Brahms’s three sonatas. Although not as well known the young Richard Strauss also wrote a violin sonata in 1887/88 around the time that Brahms was completing his third sonata. The four twentieth-century violin sonatas contained on this Guild release were composed in a thirty year period from the early years of the First World War to the end of the Second World War. 

The first composer on this Guild release is Hans Schaeuble. Swiss-born to German parents Schaeuble studied in Leipzig and lived for some time in Berlin. His strong German affiliations meant that after the war he was described in some quarters as a Nazi and consequently his reputation suffered. There are only a handful of Schaeuble recordings in the catalogues and I cannot recall seeing any of his scores in any concert/recital programmes. 

Schaeuble composed his first Violin Sonata, Op.7 in 1930/31. His Violin Sonata No.2, Op.31 was completed after the Second World War in 1947 and like its predecessor has dropped into obscurity. Cast in four movements Schaeuble’s score opens with a brief Introduction infused with an intense feeling of yearning. Any attempts to cultivate a more uplifting character to the music are thwarted by the menacing and overcast skies of the Scherzando. Dour and airless the writing in the Lento (quasi Fantasia) feels as if representative of dark, quasi-sacred images of a vengeful character. Marked Andante-Allegro-Andante the final movement is permeated by a languid and almost disconcerting melancholy. A central section Allegro offers more spirit and vigour whilst maintaining a certain reserve. On the evidence of this score I feel Schaeuble’s music is worthy of further investigation. I am enthusiastic to hear the recordings of the Concertino for Oboe and Strings, Op. 44; Symphony for Strings and Timpani, Op.27 ‘In memoriam’; Music for 2 Violins and Strings, Op.18 on the Gallo label CD 557

A good place to start might be Schaeuble’s other recordings on the Guild label: Praeludium for Organ, from Op.15; String Quartet, Op.19; Concertino for Flute and String Orchestra, Op.47 and the Five Choruses a-cappella.

Born in Hanau, Germany Paul Hindemith was a significant and most  prolific composer. Hindemith developed a complicated relationship with the National Socialist authorities in Germany. In 1938 Hindemith who had a Jewish wife was forced to leave Germany for exile in Switzerland. It was in 1940 that Hindemith emigrated for a new life in the USA where he became an American citizen in 1946. 

Hindemith’s Violin Sonata in E major was completed in 1935 a year after his celebrated Symphony: Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter). Cast in two movements the E major Sonata is a short work lasting just under eleven minutes. Marked Ruhig und Bewegt the opening movement remains restrained carrying a distinct feeling of tension. The second movement Langsam–Sehr lebhaft–Langsam–Wieder lebhaft contains writing of a serious vein that plumbs shadowy emotional depths. At 2:07 the mood switches with the Scherzando an energetic dance-like outburst. From 4:59-6:28 the underlying dark mood of the opening returns. The movement concludes on a positive note with a brief and lively Coda

Bavarian-born in Brand, Max Reger made a swift rise to fame in Germany both as a musician and a composer. Reger is now regarded as one of a group of German composers working around the early 1990s whose music has largely been forgotten; overshadowed by the renowned composers Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg. Although composing for a relatively short span of some twenty-five years Reger produced a massive body of work. 

Reger’s Violin Sonata in C minor, Op.139 is one of several that he wrote in the genre. The C minor Sonata was completed in 1915 a year after his renowned orchestral score the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart, Op.132. Marked Con passione the opening movement has an essentially unsettling mood switching from frenzied uncertainty to one of yearning infatuation. The subdued Largo inhabits a bleak and desolate sound-world followed by a Scherzo lyrical in character immersed in gaiety with a vein of mockery. The final movement is designed in a theme and variations plan. Bleak and rather unremarkable the theme seems initially unsuitable for inventive development. The set of nine variations that follow prove to be imaginative and appealing if of a generally wistful and introverted nature. Here there are only brief glimpses of vivacity and frivolity. I feel that the dour and uncompromising nature of the conclusion detracts from any popular appeal.

Wilhelm Furtwängler, a native of Berlin, is considered one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century. He also composed seriously throughout his life; in fact, he was working on his Symphony No. 3 at the time of his death in 1954. 

Completed in 1935 Furtwängler’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor is a massive four movement score that lasts almost an hour. The lengthy opening movement marked Allegro moderato is stormy and unsettling music of considerable tension and anxiety. A substantial proportion of the violin writing is for the higher registers, especially in the opening pages. By contrast the movement dissolves towards a peaceful conclusion. Calm and meditative almost of a crepuscular disposition the Adagio solenne provides little to hold the attention. There are just two episodes of an increase of weight and tension. From 7:44 like in the opening movement the shadows lengthen and the music shifts quickly to a calm and soothing ending. The extended Moderato movement is ardent and serious contrasted with angst ridden writing of a wild and stormy nature. Characteristically Furtwängler provides a quiet ending to the movement. The opening of the final movement of the Sonata is marked by a strident theme for the violin. Although full of vitality the writing is generally more melodic than rhythmic but not in a tuneful sense. A change of mood at 15:28 to one of deathly stillness serves as a precursor to a rhythmically robust conclusion from 18:20. 

Violinist Bettina Boller and pianist Walter Prossnitz allow you to hear the music without having their personalities taking centre-stage. With playing that feels spontaneous the duo have the ability to engage the listener in these frequently highly emotional and often tension-ridden musical journeys. 

Splendid sound quality and an impressive essay add to the appeal of this issue. Those wishing to explore the lesser-known reaches of Germanic late-Romantic violin sonatas should not hesitate.

Michael Cookson


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