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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata in B minor, P110 (1917) [25:18]
Violin Sonata in D minor (1897) [20:16]
Five Pieces (1906) [19:27]
Six Pieces P31 (1901-05): No. 4 and 5 [7:12]
Tanja Becker-Bender (violin)
Péter Nagy (piano)
rec. November 2011, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
HYPERION CDA67930 [72:16]

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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata in B minor, P110 (1917) [25:54]
Six Pieces P31 (1901-05): Nos. 2, 4 and 5 [11:03]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata Op.18 (TrV 151) (1887) [28:51]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. May 2012, Potton Hall, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10749 [65:50]
Experience Classicsonline

Two recordings of the Respighi Sonata in B minor appear in performances that pursue different programmatic agendas. Tasmin Little on Chandos allies it with Strauss’s youthful romantic effusion whilst Tanja Becker-Bender places it securely in the context of Respighi’s other works for violin. This will certainly have a significant bearing on each disc’s appeal.
The tonal production of the two fiddle players could hardly be more different. Little draws on a rich palette of colours whilst Becker-Bender employs a more circumscribed and edgier sound. Both however have clearly thought-through approaches. From the start Little’s charismatic slides and intense vibrato give the music a rather florid romanticist appeal. Her phraseology is quite elastic but her passion is committed. Becker-Bender is tauter, cleaner in respect of expressive devices and more linear. Little’s is the more concertante performance and if this is how you like your Respighi, this will appeal mightily. She can be volatile in the outer movements, and is full of confiding warmth and pathos in the slow movement, aligning it strangely close to the ethos, at least, of Elgar’s almost contemporaneous sonata. Little varies her vibrato speed here wisely and well, and Piers Lane’s adroit pianism is another plus. Lane takes the Passacaglia finale at a rather more rapid tempo than Péter Nagy’s ten-league-boots approach, which I think works better. Yet the Becker-Bender/Nagy also impresses in its own very much more abrasive and sinuous way, smaller scaled and less confiding though it may be. Their recording is more close up than the one from Chandos-catching a lot of Becker-Bender’s sniffing-whereas the Chandos is, for me, cut at slightly too low a level, so you have to turn up the volume. In the end the choice is between Little’s big-boned (arguably in places, like the opening, too mannered) approach which is expressive, richly coloured and intense, and Becker-Bender’s steelier, more monochromatic and cutting way. Given the choice, I’d choose Little.
Little and Lane follows in the distinguished shoes of Chung and Zimerman (DG) in selecting the Strauss as a companion sonata. It’s difficult to avoid a gear change in the opening movement if you start it a little too sedately, which is how most duos do these days. Violinists like Heifetz (who made possibly the greatest recording of the Respighi B minor) and Neveu tended to ensure that phrases coalesced rather more sinuously. But Little’s performance is of a piece with that of her Respighi: thoroughly committed romantic playing, with a (possible) surfeit of expressive finger position changes, rich vibrato and lyric impulses: note her and Lane’s keen ear for dynamic variance in the slow movement in particular. She ends with some more Respighi, three of the Six Pieces P31 from the first decade of the twentieth-century, of which the Hyperion duo plays two. In the Serenata Little is again warmer, Becker-Bender-one rather queasy moment apart-more externalised I also prefer the British player in the Valse caressante where her rhythm is the more convincing.
Meanwhile, in her disc, Becker-Bender plays Respighi’s early 1897 D minor sonata, a strongly Brahmsian affair, and does so with structural integrity and fine ensemble assurance. What I miss is the kind of warmth Little brought to the later, greater work. Here Becker-Bender’s terse tone production precludes a necessary degree of affection. She also plays the Five Pieces of 1906, little character charmers of no great intellectual pretensions but which sit well under the fingers. These are generally convincing but now and then they sound a bit highly strung: the Madrigale for instance is too highly polished and lacks relaxation. Stylistically, Rodolfo Bonucci and Pietro Spada on Arts [47138-2] are more convincing.
Given the performance strengths and weaknesses, choice, certainly in the Respighi B minor, will depend a lot on programming considerations.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review of the Chandos release by Rob Barnett 

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