Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A Op.12 No.2 [16:17]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108 [20:40]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for piano and violin in C major, K296 [13:09]
Cťsar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A Major [26:12]
Paul Makanowitzky (violin)
NoŽl Lee (piano)
rec. 3 May 1961 (Beethoven, Brahms); February 13 1963 (Mozart, Franck), Studio NDR, Hamburg
MELOCLASSIC MC2032 [76:19]

The more I listen to the playing of Paul Makanowitzky, the more I’m at a loss as to his relative neglect. He was a superb violinist and is now considered a cult figure by collectors. Maybe his premature retirement from the concert stage at the relatively young age of forty-seven in 1967 to devote his time to teaching offers some explanation. The other factor is that his commercial discography is somewhat on the meagre side. Central to it are the recordings of the complete cycles of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms Sonatas he set down with his duo partner NoŽl Lee. They met in Paris in 1954 and gave concerts together for ten years between 1954 and 1964. There’s a tangible rapport between them, leading one American critic to declare their ensemble playing ‘The best … to be found anywhere in the world’. Both had studied with the great French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, who taught them to respect the music and the composer’s intentions. The Bach and Beethoven Sonatas have been reissued in a 4 CD set by Doremi (DHR-7946). The Brahms Sonatas have been favoured by Forgotten Records, and I reviewed them a couple of months ago.

What we have here are radio recordings from Hamburg, culled from two sessions in 1961 and 1963. The Beethoven and Brahms Sonatas offer alternatives to their commercial counterparts. All are first CD releases. The Mozart and Franck works were never recorded commercially. So, all in all, these constitute valuable additions to the violinist’s discography (see review of Volume 1).

The Beethoven Second Violin Sonata has an exhilarating opening movement, light and buoyant, with the violin staccato bowings at the outset crisply articulated. The slow movement is, by contrast, serious and expressive. The finale is particularly successful, with the players capturing its light-hearted and breezy mood. The technically challenging Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op.108 by Brahms provides no hurdles for Makanowitzky, whose technique is impressive on all counts. The players bring plenty of drama and passion to their reading. I’m particularly taken by the fervent rendition of the slow movement, and there’s no shortage of energy and ťlan in the finale.

The Mozart Sonata oozes Viennese elegance and charm, and one can perceive the delight of the players in their sense of abandon and confident delivery. The Franck Sonata holds up well in an extremely competitive arena. Nicely paced, dynamics and phrasing are all instinctively suited and they make the most of Franck’s soaring lyricism with playing of burning intensity. There’s no stale routine here, but everything sounds spontaneous and fresh.

I’m amazed how well the recordings sound, much better than I would have expected. As in the other volumes from this latest batch I have reviewed, there is an excellent, informative liner contribution from Michael Waiblinger. Lovers of masterly violin performance will want to seek this volume out.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf