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Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Suite for violin and piano WV18 (op.1) (1911) [21:52]
Sonata No.1 for violin and piano WV24 (op.7) (1913) [19:17]
Sonata for solo violin WV83 (1927) [11:27]
Sonata No.2 for violin and piano WV91 (1927) [16:31]
Eka Gogichashvili (violin)
Kae Hosoda-Ayer (piano)
rec. September-October 2012, July 2013 (Sonata No.2), Jones Hall, Baylor University School of Music, Waco, Texas
MSR CLASSICS MS1560 [69:18]

This is precisely the same programme as can be found on Hyperion, where Tanja Becker-Bender and Markus Becker are the protagonists (CDA67833 - review). Schulhoff’s violin works do make for good, hermetically sealed programming with the 1927 works revealing his astute modernism, and those from 1911-13 showing miscellaneous influences on the young Czech composer.

The Suite is the earliest of the quartet of pieces, written when he was about 17. The five-movement dance suite is redolent of Regerian influence – no surprise, as Schulhoff had studied with Reger in Leipzig shortly beforehand. Cast in Baroque form the highlights are a playful, off-kilter Minuetto and a witty concluding Scherzo. Two years later he wrote the first of his Sonatas for violin and piano, which was imbued with a strong element of impressionism. 1913 was the year he studied, briefly, with Debussy so the impulsive absorption of impressionism was a fertile one. The sonata is in four movements and whilst not nearly as compact as Debussy’s own Violin Sonata, it doesn’t meander. The finale is energetically conveyed here, though the sonata remains uncharacteristic of his later, post-1925 self, where a modified Hot Dance ethos had infiltrated his writing. This assiduous performance lacks a degree of identification with Francophile impulses.

The Second Violin Sonata is played at a good tempo but rather lacks flair. Take a listen to Jiří Tomášek and Josef Růžíčká on Praga (PR 255 006) to hear what’s missing – the sense of impetuous drive, for one, in what remains quite a small-scaled, tonally somewhat limited traversal. This is especially true of the slow movement, quite an overtly expressive affair, where the peaks and troughs of phrases sound just too on-the-page for optimum characterization. The Burlesca trio sounds too tame – both the Praga and Hyperion teams are very much preferable. The solo Sonata is one of Schulhoff’s best-known chamber pieces. Eka Gogichashvili catches the fresh-air aspects of the opening movement well. Heard in isolation hers would be a plausible reading. But in the light of Daniel Hope (Nimbus NI5702 - review), Antonín Novák (Praga) and Becker-Bender, an element of under-characterisation – tonally and phrasally – undermines the performance. The scherzo could certainly be wittier and the finale is too slow. This deliberation sounds awkward, especially after the coiled intensity of Novák, who is the pick of the fiddlers in this work. The Hyperion remains the disc of choice for all four works.

I wouldn’t wish to suggest that Gogichashvili and Kae Hosoda-Ayer are unsatisfactory guides. Rather their assiduous but somewhat reserved readings tend to underplay the music. It is far more fervent and biting than is to be found in these reasonably well-engineered readings.

Jonathan Woolf



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