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Rudi STEPHAN (1887-1915)
Groteske for violin and piano (1911) [9:27]
Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
Violin Sonata in G major, Op.13 (1901) [45:18]
Judith Ingolfsson (violin)
Vladimir Stoupel (piano)
rec. February 2014, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
ACCENTUS MUSIC ACC303711 [54:47]

Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel have devoted themselves to a specific repertoire, that of composers who either died during the First World War or whose lives were profoundly influenced by it. Furthermore, the project, called Concert-Centenaire, forms part of the French Government’s official memorial programme for the centenary of the War. I am indebted to Accentus’ note for this explanation, which further reveals that this is the first of three discs from the duo to reflect the theme.

The major work in this prelude to the series is Magnard’s powerful Sonata, Op.13, premiered by the commissioner, the great Belgian violinist Eugéne Ysa˙e in May 1902 – his first and as it turned out, last performance of the work. Though written over a decade before the war that consumed so many lives, Magnard is included in the series because of his well-known death, killed by advancing German troops in the village of Baron after he had himself opened fire, and reportedly killed, two of their number. His house was burned to the ground.

The Sonata is a large-scale four-movement work and the duo has some real success in negotiating the constant and sometimes perilous fluctuations, in the first movement, from calme to animé. Magnard’s directions on these twin polar states are somewhat incessant and require sensitive handling and employment of rubato lest the movement break down into oppositional blocks. Their slow movement – characteristically designated Calme by Magnard - is unusually slow in my experience but the players manage to sustain the tension and more importantly the movement here from lent to vif. The richly expressive piano writing, over which the violin often spins a seductive cantilever, is well projected. There is, too, plenty of deft colour in the finale which, again, is on the stately side. The music ends without overmuch fuss but rather with a sense that the accumulation of detail, incident, and power has reached a proper finale. There aren’t too many competing versions in the catalogue at the moment but the Laurenceau-Triendl duo on CPO plays with a tauter sense of the music’s vivacity, as does the Paďdassi-Wagschal duo on Timpani 4C4228. They are both five minutes faster than the Accentus pairing. If you can find it, the most tonally charismatic and expressively rich performance is by Dumay and Collard on a French EMI recording made in 1989.

From the bigness of the Magnard to the compression of Rudi Stephan’s Groteske is quite a leap – and not just in terms of length. Composed in 1911 it was found in the Bavarian State Library in 1979 and only given its premiere in 1983. Stephan has received an increasing number of recordings these days so it’s right that this nine-minute opus should get an airing. It seems to have been conceived on a broad, indeed orchestral scale. If Magnard was given to alternations of mood, we find in Stephan’s decade-later work a far more disruptive, capricious restlessness in which rapid conjunctions operate almost cinematically, generating a real sense of momentum. Wistful lyricism soon gives way to skittering high-lying violin writing and renewed oppositional pulls. This fine performance fully conveys the vortex-like proto-expressionism of the music.

With excellent and notes and a church acoustic – the ubiquitous Jesus-Christus-Kirche – which is not allowed to billow, this disc presents its own programmatic disjunctions very nicely. If I prefer greater compression in the Magnard, the fascinations of the Stephan provide very adequate compensation.

Jonathan Woolf



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