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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in G major, K301 (1778) [16:01]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47 Kreutzer (1803) [33:38]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108 (1886-88) [19:16]
Ursula Bagdasarjanz (violin)
Luciano Sgrizzi (piano: Mozart)
Bruno Saladin (piano: Beethoven, Brahms)
rec. April 1963, Studio Lugano (Mozart) and unknown location, live, 1964 (Beethoven, Brahms)
GALLO CD-1352 [68:37]

This is the fifth volume in Gallo’s series devoted to Swiss violinist, Ursula Bagdasarjanz, a number of which issues have been reviewed on MWI (Volume 1 ~~ Volumes 2 & 3 ~~ Volume 4). The latest volume documents live performances given in 1963-64. The repertoire is standard – Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. In fact it could hardly be more standard, though it’s as well to note that this series has previously excavated other much rarer material, so volume five affords the opportunity to concentrate on core repertoire.
 
The Mozart sonata was recorded by Radio Lugano in April 1963. The studio, like many Parisian studios of the time, for instance, was dry and this conveys a rather brittle acoustic. The balance is reasonable though, and the pianist for this performance is Luciano Sgrizzi. By no stretch of the imagination could this be described as an elfin performance. Chording can be abrasive, somewhat exacerbated by the acoustic, and the music-making is lively, largely extrovert but not indifferent to the small moments of reflection embedded in the sonata.
 
There’s a disappointment in store for the two-sonata offering from 1964, where the location is not provided and possibly not known. The pianist here is Bruno F. Saladin, and he and Bagdasarjanz play the Kreutzer and the Brahms, Op.108. Alas, whilst we can hear the violinist pretty well - and she is still quite acerbic from time to time even in this acoustic - the piano sound is watery and half submerged. At first I thought Saladin was playing with the lid down – and maybe he was, though it seems improbable – but the greater problem is that there’s a decided lack of clarity to his sound. In that respect the Mozart recording is completely different and the piano comes across well. The Kreutzer gets an interesting, personalised reading. Saladin, when one can hear him properly, gets a bit rowdy from time to time and there’s too long a gap between one of the variations. The approach is somewhat cushioned, and she plays with a degree of silvery elegance.
 
In the Brahms she essays some artful portamenti and – I apologise for the obviousness – some very feminine phrasing in the slow movement, with nothing of Szigeti’s intensity. But it is elegant, that’s undeniable. I’d characterise her as more a soprano than an alto, and she seems to lack weight at times – lightish in execution, though not necessarily in conception.
 
Collectors of her recordings will not need prompting from me. They should note the deficiencies of the acoustics and studios and engineering, though these are worth persevering with given that focus is primarily on the violinist. For the general collector there is nothing here to detain them, not because the performances are bad but because they will already have other performances of these three sonatas.
 
Jonathan Woolf