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Jósef WIENIAWSKI (1837-1912)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op 24 (c. 1866) [37:43]
Jósef WIENIAWSKI and Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Allegro de sonate in G minor, Op 2 (1848) [8:12]
Grand Duo polonaise in G major, Op 5 (1853) [15:42]
Liv Migdal (violin); Marian Migdal (piano)
rec. 8-19 October 2014, Fattoria Musica Recording Studios, Osnabrück, Germany
NAXOS 8.573404 [62:01]

Sibling pairs aren’t that uncommon in many walks of life. Occasionally both children go on to distinguish themselves in the same field, like the McEnroe brothers or Williams sisters in professional tennis. Composers have similarly provided a number of sibling pairs over the centuries, where even if, like Mendelssohn and sister, Fanny, or the Haydn brothers, both siblings are recognised independently, the surname usually denotes the more famous family member in each instance.

This is certainly the case with the Wieniawski family, whose reputation now rests almost solely on the fame of Polish violinist Henryk, rather than his two-year-younger pianist-brother Jósef, who, was equally distinguished. Both brothers first studied in Lublin, south-eastern Poland, and then in Paris, where Jósef was a student of Zimmermann, Alkan and Marmontel, before spending a year in Weimar with Liszt. Henryk had entered the Conservatoire at the age of eight and, made an excellent impression on Vieuxtemps in St Petersburg, who was court violinist at the time. Jósef’s start on his career as a virtuoso pianist was made even earlier, and between 1851 and 1853 the two brothers were busy giving numerous concerts together in Russia. Keith Anderson’s informative sleeve-notes continue each brother’s journey through life: Henryk died in Russia at the age of forty-four, while Jósef ended up teaching in Brussels from 1878 until his death almost thirty-five years later.

It is Jósef Wieniawski’s Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 24, that is the main work on the CD. It was written in about 1866. While both he and his brother wrote many works with clear display opportunities, ideal for concert performances, Jósef’s output unsurprisingly presents a more academic approach. This is especially noticeable in the sonata’s finale where, as a calmer section concludes, the composer leads into a fugue which, initially seems a tad self-conscious, until it leads back into a return of the main theme. Despite this, and the conventional use of sonata form for the opening ‘Allegro con anima’, there is still a real sense of great passion in many of the bars, with some well-prepared and highly emotional climaxes along the way. As would be expected the writing for both instruments is often virtuosic, and always most effective. From the chronological standpoint, the work sits between the sonatas of Schumann and Brahms, and is almost the exact contemporary of Grieg’s First Violin Sonata in F, with which it compares most favourably in every way. With hindsight Wieniawski might have placed the slow movement – an ‘Andante religioso’ which lives up to its tempo marking, starting essentially as a gentle hymn – third. He could then have brought the lighter, and much faster-paced Scherzo (Allegro molto vivace e giojoso) forward, given that the opening Allegro isn’t exorbitantly quick, and already has a slower end-section. True the Scherzo has a folk-like dance-feel to it, but it would possibly have created a better overall contrast had it preceded the slow movement. Be that as it may, the composer effectively saves the best until last. The finale (marked ‘Allegro appassionato, ma non troppo presto’) includes the aforementioned contrapuntal section, reminiscences of previous movements, a violin cadenza, variations in tempo, an emphatic rhythmic figure at the start that is to return later, and culminates with a most impressive ending in the tonic major (D major). It amounts to almost forty minutes of totally engaging Romantic outpouring.

The two brothers actually collaborated on the Allegro de sonate in G minor, Op. 2, when Henryk was thirteen and Joseph a mere eleven years of age. The opening – a short violin cadenza with piano silent, marked ‘Maestos o’ – leads to a ‘Presto’ where the violin gives out the main theme, which later involves an exciting passage of triple, and quadruple stopping. Contrasting material is introduced, with further passages of virtuosic display, again mainly for the violin – violinist, Henryk, was, after all, two years his brother’s senior here.

The final track on the CD – the Grand Duo polonaise in G, Op. 5 – is a further collaborative effort from the two brothers, appearing as Jósef’s Op. 5 and Henryk’s Op. 8, and dates from 1853. On this occasion, the piano introduces the opening melody, followed by the violin, once more leading to more elaborate figurations from the latter, and where multiple-stoppings are again the order of the day. This introductory ‘Allegro moderato’ leads to a version of the song ‘Kozak’ (‘Cossack) by another Polish composer, Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872), simply stated before an additional ‘running’ line is added by the other instrument. A second song by Moniuszko, ‘Maciek’ follows on, marking a decided increase in tempo (‘Allegro con fuoco’). Once more the violin gets most of the action, again with some elaborate multiple-stopping in the two variations that follow, before a lilting ‘Andante’ in 6/8, in the tonic minor (G minor) leads to cadenzas for both instruments. There's then a brief reminiscence of the opening melody, set in the contrasting key of E flat major. After a full close, a chromatic passage proceeds to the final section back in the home key, based on a Polonaise by compatriot, Aleks Nikolajewicz Wierstowki – whose only claim to fame would seem to be the opera ‘Monsieur Twardowski’ (1820) – which appears in various guises, including an effective version in violin harmonics, and the mandatory passages of multiple-stopping. A short coda rounds off this most enjoyable piece of salon music, but which still demands a not insignificant degree of technical dexterity from both players.

The recording is exemplary and the performance absolutely first rate. Returning to the sibling theme, while the sleeve-note includes a short biography of both players, it doesn’t seek to convey the fact that they are indeed father and daughter. In February 2014 Liv Migdal brought out her debut CD featuring violin sonatas by Debussy, Beethoven and Strauss (ARS Produktion: ARS38145), with her pianist-father, Marian. He had already forged an impressive career and extensive discography, but died in April 2015, at the age of sixty-six after a long illness. This present CD was thus recorded some six months prior to his passing, and it would be lovely to attribute at least some part of the very special and palpable empathy between both performers to their special filial bond.

Philip R Buttall



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