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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Theme and Variations [9:27]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rondo in B minor, D 895 [14:57]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, op. 25 [15:42]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for violin solo, op. 31 no. 1 [13:04]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata in D minor, op. 108 [21:09]
Itamar Zorman (violin), Kwan Yi (piano)
rec. hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany, 5-6 October 2013
PROFIL EDITION PH14039 [75:05]

This is the debut disc of violinist Itamar Zorman, who was born in Israel in 1985. He graduated from the Juilliard School in 2009 and has gathered some prestigious prizes and awards since then. His accompanist, the Korean pianist Kwan Yi, is another Juilliard alumnus with a similar pedigree. As is appropriate for a calling-card for a violinist, the disc is impressive in the range it covers, despite avoiding the first great age of violin music, the 18th century. That apart, we have here the finest piece Schubert wrote for violin and piano, and arguably Brahms’s too, as well as Chausson’s best-known work in his own violin and piano arrangement. The two 20th century pieces are rarer and well contrasted, the Hindemith being for violin alone.

Zorman’s own booklet note shows he has a good understanding of the character of each of these works, and more importantly so does his playing.

Messiaen’s Theme and Variations is an early work, a wedding gift for his first wife the violinist Claire Delbos, with whom he premiered the piece in 1932. This is, as the artist remarks, a work of high intensity, maintained through the five variations. He plays it that way from start to finish, with a fierce and sweetly bright tone. It is possible to let a little more air into the work, as The Hebrides Ensemble manage on their better-recorded all-Messiaen chamber music disc on Linn, but Zorman’s high commitment is commendable. He brings the same quality of intensity to the other French work on the disc: Chausson’s Poème, giving full value to its Franckian and Wagnerian inheritance, unabashed by its hot-house emotional world.

The Schubert is an excellent foil to these albeit, as Brian Newbould says of the Rondo in his book on Schubert, “undervalued”, “little-known because it is seldom played” and “one of the best-kept secrets of connoisseurs of Schubert’s mature oeuvre”. It is over 700 bars of demanding writing for both instruments but it makes here a splendid quarter-of-an-hour’s listening. Both artists make light of the virtuoso requirements and dance delightfully along with its infectious rhythms. There is even more polish, but hardly any more spontaneity, from Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen, on their fine Pentatone survey of Schubert’s music for this combination, with its superior SACD recording.

The Brahms is the most substantial item and the one piece here that most readers will know well. This version of a jewel of the chamber repertory shows both players to be good stylists - well up to the demands of each of its four movements. Many mature artists bring stronger characterisation and even more light and shade to their violin tone than Zorman deploys here, but this is nonetheless a persuasive account of this much-recorded sonata.

The Hindemith sonata is much more elusive, in terms of frequency of recording and concert performance. Then again, Hindemith’s place in the 20th century canon generally sometimes seems insecure. So all the more reason to thank Itamar Zorman for including him here, and showing he is not out of place in such exalted company. As we expect from a composer who was an expert string player, this brilliant five movement solo piece shows off the instrument in all its aspects. Zorman is fully responsive to its variety of moods and technical demands. This is the item on the disc I shall return to most often.

So who is this disc for? Debut discs tend to languish unplayed on the shelves, if the artist goes on to greater things - and especially if he or she doesn’t. Most collectors will have favourite recordings of the Brahms and perhaps the Chausson or Schubert already. Zorman though explains that he wanted the disc to mirror a real concert programme. Some of the recording was done at or in preparation for a lunchtime recital apparently. Taken on those terms this is a very satisfying disc, in a good recording, and surely a harbinger of great things to come.

Roy Westbrook


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