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135 Years of Czech Composers
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
From My Homeland, for violin and piano [11:32]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Four Romantic Pieces, for violin and piano, op.75 [12:59]
Sonatina in G, for violin and piano, op.100 [19:58]
Zdenĕk FIBICH (1850-1900)
Poem, for violin and piano (arr. Jan Kubelik) [2:12]
Ottokar NOVÁČEK (1866-1900)
Perpetuum Mobile, for violin and piano [3:08]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Sonata, for solo violin [11:10]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata, for violin and piano [18:01]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Five Madrigal Stanzas, for violin and piano [11:11]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Four Pieces, for violin and piano, op.17 [17:24]
Yvonne Smeulers (violin)
Sander Sittig (piano)
rec. Westvest 90 Church, Schiedam, The Netherlands. No dates given
QUINTONE Q07001/2 [49:49 + 57:46] 

Experience Classicsonline

Dutch label Quintone originally released this attractively packaged set in 2007. At a total running time of 108 minutes, this is more a disc-and-a-half than a true double, but the retail price is still fairly hefty. On the other hand, the high standard of the music-making by Dutch violinist Yvonne Smeulers and her long-time pianist Sander Sittig constitutes considerable compensation. Add to that the broad appeal of the fairly easy-going music that has been selected for their extended recital, and the question of the price/timing ratio recedes somewhat.
 
The programme provides a varied, entertaining mix of the short and long, light and dark, popular and relatively neglected. Anyone drawn initially by the more mellifluously mainstream items on CD 1 is likely to be pleasantly surprised by the works on CD 2, which, though more 'hardcore', with heavier, important works by Janáček and Suk, still provides an hour's worth of melodious tonal music, not least the revealing items by Schulhoff and Martinů.
 
The album title is a trifle misleading: the "135" refers to the number of years between the birth of the first and the death of the last featured composer. In fact, all wrote at least some music that is more or less Romantic in sound. Janáček could have known, and quite likely did know, all of them as professional musicians. It may also be pointed out here that there is no special requirement to love Czech music - only Smetana and, intermittently, Janáček are really in nationalist or folkloric mode here.
 
Sander Sittig looks rather stern in his booklet photo, but his playing reveals a good deal of lightness and warmth. In fairness, though, he does have less to do than Smeulers. Her 1785 Guadagnini violin has an agreeable middle tone. Lyrical and thoughtful, Smeulers is persuasive throughout, and especially impressive in Schulhoff's scintillating Solo Sonata, the first movement of which feels surprisingly like a hoe-down!
 
Sound quality is very good. The product barely advertises its SACD status - the only pointers are the distinctive symbol and tiny print on the disc itself. It does not specify at all that it is a 'Hybrid' - this time the golden sheen of the playing surface provides the clue. Unusually, there is no straight stereo for the SACD layer, only multichannel. The standard CD layer does play in stereo.

The Westvest 90 church at Schiedam may have a strange name, but its ambience is airy and, somehow, almost reverberation-free.
 
The CD case is a foldout "digipak triptych". The glossy booklet slides in behind the front cover. Unfortunately the only track listing is on the back cover of the digipak, which means the listener must keep that to hand for reference. The Dutch-English-French-German notes, however, are fairly informative and well translated.
 
Byzantion
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