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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

The Violin Sonata Around 1900
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata Op.18 (1887) [27:04]

Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Violin Sonata (1936-37) [14:24]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata in B minor (1916-17) [25:41]
Isabelle van Keulen (violin)
Ronald Brautigam (piano)
rec. March 2008m, Galaxy Studios, Moll, Belgium
Experience Classicsonline

The only thing really wrong with the disc is its title. ‘Around 1900’ is a strange way to group together the Strauss (1887), Respighi (1916-17) and – surely not! – the Rota, which was composed in 1936-37. Discs need pegs sometimes, I suppose, upon which to hang, even if wonkily.

Isabelle van Keulen and Ronald Brautigam approach Respighi’s sonata with assurance; she with an expressive tone though not with the opulent largesse of, say, Josef Suk, whose recording with Josef Hala is a Supraphon classic. She can blanch that tone adeptly, as she does in the central movement, but ensures that she builds powerfully to the climax, and even if the recording is slightly on the chilly side the expressive momentum generated by van Keulen and Brautigam remains unvanquished. There are some palpably original tempo decisions in the finale where the bad tempered piano writing generates its own visceral force. It’s magnetically interesting ensemble playing, that’s for sure, even if some auditors may find the rubati too excessive and the result, just a bit broken backed. Full marks for commitment though. 

Strauss’s effusive and youthful sonata is played with.similalry fine tone and excellent ensemble. The performance tends to cleave to the prevailing norm in this work which is largely speaking to eschew the kind of expansive romanticism espoused by such as Neveu and Heifetz and instead to propound somewhat more timid virtues. One seldom these days hears the sonata launched with the heart-thumping elation of older players. It’s not a question of tempo so much as intent and fluidity of tempo relationships. On its own terms though it’s conspicuously well played. 

Which brings us to Rota’s gloriously vivid sonata. This embraces the porcelain lyricism of the opening movement and a sparkling but vibrantly controlled finale. In between comes one of the loveliest things you’ll hear this side of Heaven, a song of such limpid beauty it’s impossible to resist its lure. The duo play it as if it were the most fragile of eggs, blue veined, and vulnerable, and their control of dynamics does it genuine justice. This is a performance to replay with the most heartfelt of pleasure. 

So, an inappropriate disc title nevertheless enshrines highly personal performances of a trio of disparate but essentially romantic sonatas.  Superb ensemble work is allied to vibrant performances. 

Jonathan Woolf 




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