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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Fourteen Preludes from Op.34 (1932-33) (arr. violin and piano by Dmitri Tsyganov) [18:47]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Visions Fugitives, Op.22 (1915-17) (arr. violin and piano by Viktor Derevianko, 1993) [23:30]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Seven Pieces from The Threepenny Opera (1928) (arr. violin and piano by Stefan Frenkel) [12:06]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Lisa Smirnova (piano)
rec. 2013, Schloss Goldegg, Austria
ONDINE ODE1253-2 [54:23]

Benjamin Schmid is certainly one for a challenge. He and pianist Lisa Smirnova have constructed a very unusual programme that is dripping with arrangements. First there are 14 of the 24 Preludes, Op.34 that Dmitri Tsyganov fashioned out of Shostakovich’s piano originals. Then, not to be outdone – and because the Tsiganov arrangements are well-known – he has found 1993 arrangements made by another Russian musician, Viktor Derevianko, of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, Op.22. Finally, to bring the geographical focus westwards, he plays the seven pieces from The Threepenny Opera in the famous arrangements by Stefan Frenkel.

So the first question, given the foregoing: 41 tracks in a 54-minute album, and no works originally written for the violin. Does all of this really work? It depends on the conviction of the performers, and beyond that the validity of the arrangements. Two of them have stood the test of time and it’s only the Prokofiev that will be new to many. So it’s as well to consider the performances.

Most fiddlers pick and choose half a dozen of the Tsyganov Prelude arrangements. Some will add them singly to a recital or recording. Others, more specialised, will promote a larger number. Hardly anyone records more than half of the 19 arrangements Tsyganov made. Schmid’s decision to record as many as 14 is laudable in the context, but there was room for them all. Maybe he remains less than convinced by the ones he hasn’t taped, or maybe he or Ondine think that this would give the programme a thoroughly archival look to it. I have a sneaking sense of disappointment, though, that he didn’t go the whole hog and record them all, adding the five arrangements Lera Auerbach made in 2000 of the remaining Preludes. As for the selected Preludes, Schmid is not afraid to get some abrasive grit into his tone in No.6 or to bring a wry quality of characterisation to No.13. He’s even quicker than Camilla Wicks and Sixten Ehrling in their venerable recording of No.10, one of the most famous of the set. Schmid and Smirnova have the good sense to jumble up the set, starting with No.24 and ending with the driving No.20 but playing the majority in a broad narrative, chronological direction. He prefers to order those he plays 24, 2, 6, 10, 12 and so on.

I’d not come across the Prokofiev-Derevianko on disc before. The arranger is a distinguished musician and a pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus. He also worked with Shostakovich after 1970 before emigrating to Israel in 1976. The Visions are played complete, in the accepted order – though we know that they were written at different times. Schmid and Smirnova prove admirable exponents of this new-clothed work, though I wonder how the pianist feels about the violinist taking the glory. It’s fascinating to hear the famous Allegretto (No.3) re-clothed in this way, as well as to hear the wandering expressivity of No.7, and the driving No.15. You can also hear a huge exhalation of breath from Schmid in No.17.

It’s always engaging to come across the Weill-Frenkel septet of pieces. They suit Schmid’s tonal variety and shaping of material. I think one can hear from his playing of the Cannon Song that he has a Jazz background, as his rhythm is splendidly flexible. His smeary vibrato in the Tango Ballad works well.

This well played and well recorded recital comes with sensible and helpful booklet notes. It’s something of a niche release but worth exploring if you’re a questing fiddle-lover.

Jonathan Woolf



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