Philipp SCHARWENKA (1847-1917)
Violin Sonata, Op. 110 [21:04]
Violin Sonata, Op 114 [19:08]
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 99 [25:10]
Natalia Prishepenko (violin)
Oliver Triendl (piano)
rec. Kupferhaus, Planegg, Munich, Germany, November 2015
TYXART TXA16075 [65:50]

The name Scharwenka will be familiar to many readers, especially those who are practising musicians, if only through the Klindworth-Scharwenka Edition. In fact, there were two composers called Scharwenka who were active in the second half of the nineteenth century – the brothers Xaver and Philipp. Both composed considerable bodies of music including symphonies, concertos, chamber music, works for piano and, in Philipp’s case, even an opera.

Xaver, the younger by three years, achieved the greater reputation from his career as a virtuoso pianist. His career rather overshadowed that of his sibling and a select few of his works have remained on the fringes of the standard repertoire. As a result it is his music, including all four of his entertaining piano concertos, that has recently been the subject of greater attention and more recordings. Philipp, the subject of the present CD, concentrated exclusively on composing and teaching. When Xaver opened his own conservatory in 1881 Philipp became head of the theory and composition departments and eventually took over the enterprise, merging it with the school of Karl Klindworth in 1893. He remained principal of this institute until his death.

The focus of current interest is Philipp’s chamber music and the few recordings of his works that I have been able to find are devoted to that form. He composed a piano quintet, two string quartets, no fewer than five piano trios, a ’cello sonata, three violin sonatas and several miscellaneous pieces for piano and ’cello or piano and violin - such as the Op. 99 Suite included on the present recording. The violin sonatas we also have here are his second and third.

As one might expect from German-Polish works written in the second half of the nineteenth century the music is very accessible and listenable if not particularly original in style. The themes are distinct enough to sit in the mind immediately without any effort being required of the listener. Both the sonatas are in the standard three movements – fast/slow/fast. The second (Op. 110) has a restless Allegro, followed by a very short and tragic Largamente with a cadence-like transition to an Allegretto con moto third movement. It was dedicated to the violinist Willy Burmeister (the original dedicatee of Sibelius’s violin concerto). The third sonata (Op. 114) starts with an elegant but passionate Allegro moderato with a playful second subject, followed by a gentle Andante tranquillo and a fiery Allegro animato finale which dies away quite quickly without the suggested stretto-like coda. The piece is dedicated to the Belgian virtuoso, Irma Saenger-Sethe. The Op.99 Suite is in four movements: a virtuoso toccata, a romantic ballade, a fugal intermezzo and a tarantella finale. The booklet note suggests that the musical language fits into a framework between Brahms and Reger and mentions Brahms and Franck as being evoked by Op. 110. Franck does come to mind but, to my ear, both Brahms and Reger are some way away. The nearest equivalent style for all the music on this disc is probably the violin sonatas of Saint-Saens – with occasional nods to the violin and piano music of Josef Suk.

As for the artists I have encountered Triendl before – most recently as the pianist on an excellent CD of the piano quintets of Gernsheim. Prishepenko is a new name to me but it sounds as though she should be much better known, with a lovely silvery tone and pretty well flawless technique. The two make an excellent duo and serve this music extremely well.

Very few recordings are available for comparison. An Olympia CD from 2000 (entitled “Philipp Scharwenka Chamber Music Vol. 1”, although Vol.2 never appeared) apparently included the Op.110 sonata in a performance by Paul Barritt and James Lisney – although, as the result of some kind of mix-up, what was recorded was actually the Op. 114 sonata. I haven’t been able to find a copy of this recording although the snippets available to hear online suggest a fine performance. For Op.110 I have resorted to a Genesis LP from the 1970s (NLA but it can be found easily enough on Youtube), coupling that sonata with Xaver Scharwenka’s Op 2, in performances by Robert Zimansky and (in Op.110) Leonore Klinckerfuss. The Genesis performance takes 23:22 overall, which appears more leisurely but, in fact, many of the tempi chosen are pretty well identical with those of Prishepenko and Triendl. It is purely Zimansky’s tendency to pull back some of the slower sections of the music slightly more that accounts for the overall difference in duration. Other elements of performance comparison are largely redundant because the two duos (especially the violinists) sound astonishingly similar in style and reading – so the recording on Youtube will give the interested listener a good idea of what to expect here. Both duos give splendid and arresting performances which are suitably subtle when the occasion requires. The recordings are similar with the LP sounding the more recessed. The sound of the CD is slightly veiled and, to my ear, not quite demonstration quality but it is pretty good and very acceptable.

The rather underwhelming booklet notes are in German with shorter and adequate, if not particularly good, English translations and single pages of French and Japanese as an afterthought.

I hope that TYXart will be able to follow this enterprising release, perhaps with the remaining violin sonata and a piano trio or two. Also, even now, might Olympia get around to producing Vol. 2 of the chamber music - as (presumably) originally intended? Either way, here is another engaging and approachable composer whose music almost certainly deserves wider exploration.

Bob Stevenson

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