The Great Violins - Volume 2: ‘Niccolò Amati’ 1647
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
Roderick Chadwick (piano)
rec. May 2015 Church of St John the Baptist, Aldbury, England; St Michaels, Highgate, London, July 2015
ATHENE ATH23205 [63:16]

The recreation of one of Ole Bull’s salon concerts is the conceit that motors this hour-plus programme. The fact that Peter Sheppard Skærved plays Bull’s 1647 Amati violin is a pleasing intensifier, especially as Bull called it ‘my Pearl’.

In the 1840s and 50s a great virtuoso such as Bull would naturally pepper recitals with his own compositions but would also sprinkle some stardust courtesy of other composers, most Nordic, and would add ballast via a sonata staple. This accounts for the look of the programme with its top-heavy vignette sensibility.

The recital opens with the elegantly decorated Siciliana Bull dedicated to Mikhail Glinka and includes a sequence of pieces written between 1837 to c.1861 – all very succinct – that reflect different sides of his compositional métier. The brief and statuesque polyphony of the Quartetto per un violino solo is followed by the guitar imitation of the Guitar-Serenade transcribed by Bull’s younger contemporary, the violinist and composer Anders Heyerdahl. The intriguingly titled Aurora turns out to be to be a violin and piano reworking from the central movement of his 1841 E minor Concerto. Reshaped for a salon audience this Schubertian opus has an ingratiating lyricism and a rather overdramatic end. The folkloric Hardanger element that was so much an element of Bull’s lineage can be savoured in the Springdandser, written in the Revolutionary year of 1848, where one finds Sheppard Skærved interpolating improvisatory ornaments. Rather more folklorically intense is Fanitullen, a Devil’s Reel of some vivacity.

The largest scale Bull works here are Et Sæterbesøg and the American Fantasy. The former – about which, unaccountably, there is nothing in Sheppard Skærved’s excellent booklet notes – is a rather lovely piece, from its beautiful piano introduction to its folklike fiddle roulades. American Fantasy is a piece ‘reimagined’ by the violinist as the original Fantasia on American Airs has been lost. We know the tunes involved and so this reconstruction takes as its model Bull’s version of Arkansas Traveler, the one tune to have survived. As befits such a potboiling bravura work, Sheppard Skærved goes to town on it, stitching the tunes nicely in succession.

The Mozart Sonata K301 finds Roderick Chadwick forward in the balance though the acoustic difference between this and other performances given in the Highgate church are very clearly different to those in St John the Baptist, Aldbury. Torgeir Augundsson’s Bruremarsj transcribed by Johann Halvorsen, is a piece that Sheppard Skærved has known for many years and he plays the folk fiddle dance with great vitality and tonal nuance. It’s also good to hear Émile Sauret’s transcription of Grieg’s ardently lyric Digterens Hjerte. These and the other small pieces in this programme function as local colour and enrich the programming conceit to advantage.

So, with excellent notes and good sound quality to the fore, volume two continues the good work of the earlier disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John France

Track listing
Ole BULL (1810-1880)
Siciliana (for Mikhail Glinka) (1847?) [2:24]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in G major, K. 301 (1778) [16:28]
Torgeir AUGUNDSSON (1799?-1872)
Bruremarsj (c.1829, transcr. Johann Halvorsen) [2:34]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Méditation sur le Premier Prélude by Bach (and the tune of 'Ave Maria') (1853) [4:19]
Quartetto per un violino solo (1837) [0:48]
Guitar-Serenade (1856-61) transcr. Anders Heyerdahl [1:25]
Aurora (1841) [3:12]
2 Springdandser (c.1848) [1:46]
Hallinger No. 2 (c.1848) [2:12]
Fanitullen (1849) [1:50]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Digterens Hjerte (transcr. Émile Sauret) [1:22]
American Fantasy (1856, transcr. Peter Sheppard Skærved, 2014) [11:02]
Gaetano BRAGA (1829-1907)
La Serenata ('Angel Serenade') (transcr. Adolphe Pollitzer) [2:52]
Anders HEYERDAHL (1832-1918)
Nissespel, Op. 11 [3:08]
Et Sæterbesøg [7:51]

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