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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30/2 [26:14]
Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 [24:36]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op.105 [13:28]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Duo Concertant [14:56]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.1 in G major, Op.78 [19:23]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Phantasie for violin and piano, Op.47 [6:58]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Six Variations Hélas, j’ai perdu mon amant K374b/K360 [4:42]
The Firebird; tableau 1; VIII. Jeu des princesses avec les pommes d'or [1:57]
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de MONDONVILLE (1711-1772)
Violin Sonata in C major [7:09]
Paul Makanowitzky (violin)
Noël Lee, Jerzy Vitas (piano)
rec. live, 23 June 1961, Ettlingen, Schloss, South German Radio; except, live, 29 March 1963, Bruchsal, Schloss, South German Radio (Brahms, Schoenberg) and studio, late 1940s, Voice of America recording (Mozart, Stravinsky, Mondonville)
MELOCLASSIC MC2025 [64:19 + 61:21]

Though of Russian extraction, Paul Makanowitzky was born is Stockholm in 1920, and was a protégé of Ivan Galamian, Jacques Thibaud and Nadia Boulanger in Paris, where the family had moved in 1924. His performing debut was in 1929, in the city’s Salle Gaveau. His New York debut occurred eight years later in 1937. Though a Swedish citizen, in 1942, he volunteered to fight in World War II for the United States. He acted as a gunner in B-24s, bombing Eastern Europe from bases in Italy. After parachuting out of his burning aircraft, he was held a prisoner of war in Romania for six months. His solo career resumed after the war and, in 1967, he retired from the concert platform to go into full-time teaching. The year previously he had begun teaching at the Juilliard School, and Meadowmount School of Music, as Ivan Galamian’s first assistant. Together they reared the talents of the young Perlman, Zukerman and Kyung-Wha Chung. Four years later he accepted a post at the University of Michigan, where he remained for thirteen years, adding some conducting to his schedule. In 1983, he retired to France, and died in 1993 in the States.

Makanowitzky’s tone is large-scaled, his bow arm drawing a powerful sonority. Expressive slides and position changes hardly feature at all in his playing. There are some barely perceptible suggestions in the slow movement of the Brahms Sonata but these devices don’t feature in any prominent way in his violinistic arsenal. His vibrato is fast and unvaried which, by its very nature, imposes some limitations on his tonal palette, and confers a one-dimensional element to his sound. Yet, again in the Brahms Adagio, his vibrato invests the double-stops with a vibrant singing quality, which is very persuasive. He was prepared to be audacious and take risks with his bowing, adding that extra ounce of brilliance, boldness and visceral excitement, particularly to the Stravinsky and Schoenberg works featured here.

From 1954 to 1964 Makanowitzky formed a duo partnership with the American pianist and composer Noël Lee (1924-2013). One American journalist described them as "The best ensemble playing to be found anywhere in the world." The key to their success lay in the fact that both studied at one time or another with the great French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. She instilled in her charges a deep respect for music rather than fame, and it was an uncompromising stance. For Makanowitzky the composer’s intentions were always paramount, and he became a slave to the score.

The two Beethoven Sonatas, side by side, make an effective pairing. The Violin Sonata No. 7 in C Minor opens with a movement characterized by struggle and anguish. Lee sets a scene of poignancy and wistfulness for the beautiful Adagio which follows, and Makanowitzky’s tenderness and eloquence are heartfelt; the effect is spellbinding. There’s some crisply incisive martelé bowing in the Scherzo. Tension, turbulence and strife, which underlie the mood of the finale, are realized to good effect. The sunny disposition of the Violin Sonata No.10 in G major Op.96 makes a pleasing contrast, being a product of the lyrical side of Beethoven’s musical personality. It is a captivating performance, which brings the music to life with an intoxicating blend of eloquence and sensitivity.

I much prefer Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata to the one we have here. Indeed the composer himself said: ‘I didn’t like the First Violin Sonata, so I wrote a second, which I hope turned out better’. However, the duo impart an impassioned quality to the work, allowing it to unfold naturally in an idiomatic way. They effectively evoke the elegiac flavour of the first movement and capture its fleeting moods. The Stravinsky Duo Concertant is rugged and gritty, and is well-suited to the violinist’s abrasive and go-for-broke gestures. Eglogue II and Dithyrambe offer a more assuaging mood.

The Brahms Sonata and Schoenberg Phantasie derive from a live radio broadcast given two years later in 1963. The violinist’s warm tone is ideal for the Brahms, and the duo’s love for the music permeates every bar, resulting in a beguiling account. The Adagio is raptly intense, and the ‘Regenlied’ finale contains some seductive and rarefied expressiveness. The Schoenberg Phantasie, whilst not to everyone’s taste, is stimulating and thought-provoking. Conceived in a spiky and expressionistic style, it certainly offers some food for thought, and the players do it proud.

The last three items are studio ‘Voice of America’ recordings from the late 1940s. Sound quality doesn’t match the previous 1960s offerings, but they are very welcome nonetheless. The pianist is Jerzy Vitas, an unknown quantity as far as I am concerned. The Mozart Variations are suffused with grace, simplicity and charm. The sonata by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville is new to me, but is a delight. There’s some delightfully crisp bowing salvos from Makanowitzky in the finale.

The 1960s radio recordings are in exceptionally fine sound. Meloclassic, as is the norm, offer excellent annotations, provided by Jerry Wechsler. Violin buffs will welcome this release, as the Makanowitzky/Lee partnership, certainly for me, seems to be a sympathetic and effective one.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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