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

As I have almost certainly mentioned before, I am a fan of the less well known figures of 19th century music so I was already aware of the Scharwenka brothers. Of the pair, the best known - if that description can be applied here - is Franz Xaver who, although neglected, gained an increase in the public's perception when Stephen Hough's marvellous Hyperion recording of the Fourth piano concerto (coupled with Emil von Sauer's First piano concerto) won the Gramophone disc of the year back in 1996. All four of Franz Xaver's piano concertos can be heard on Chandos and Hyperion have recorded his chamber music. Anyway, the older brother, Philipp was also a composer and, in his time, was the better known of the pair. In fact two CDs of his orchestral music can be found on Sterling: review ~ review.

The present disc includes three of his later works for violin and piano - there are several other earlier pieces for this combination which have yet to be recorded and, of the works on this disc, the most substantial is the suite, Op.99 which here is preceded by the two violin sonatas.

The Sonata in B minor, Op.99 consists of three movements beginning with an initially powerful and stormy ‘Allegro’ which after 1:45 settles down to a beguiling theme with some very nice writing for both instruments. This peaceful part does not last long as the agitated music resumes before leading into a harmonically interesting and almost fugal section which is in the major key. Overall, I would categorise this movement as a mixture of more aggressive and loud sections alternating with quieter ones, ending defiantly in the minor key. The whole movement holds together very well and is superbly played throughout. The following ‘Largamente’ is very short and starts in a sinister way before settling down to a really strange-sounding section in which the violin does most of the work. The whole atmosphere, at least to begin with, is one of regret but there is a more positive section for piano solo roughly half-way through. The two instruments then begin their dialogue again but in a more sanguine light. This leads straight into the final ‘Allegretto con moto’ which starts in a similar sort of sound-world to the Brahms Op.100 Sonata and here it is certainly played with a cheerful disposition. This movement provides both instrumentalists with ample difficulties and also shows how well Scharwenka was able to write for both instruments. I find this a most interesting work, with many contrasted ideas and here it is very well played. The final movement is particularly charming and repays repeated listenings. The ending, which is quiet and refined, is especially effective and wonderfully done.

Next follows the slightly later Sonata in C minor, Op.114. This is also cast in three movements but the structure is different as the middle slow movement is longer than the preceding sonata. As with the previous piece, this work is full of interesting tunes and the first movement, ‘Allegro moderato’ is crammed with memorable moments – both soloists are busy most of the time. I really like the cheerful section around 4 minutes in which has some interesting harmonic touches, ultimately leading to a more friendly part around 5:30 which is really rather pleasing to the ears. Again, I feel the influence of Brahms here and it is stronger than in the B minor sonata also on the disc. The following ‘Andante tranquillo’ is just that. There is a ravishing tune for the violin while the piano provides restrained accompaniment; in some ways this sounds to be from a similar world to Franck’s Sonata in A major. I could listen to this all day. As with the earlier sonata, the finale leads straight on from the middle movement. This is a high energy piece, full of animated work for both the piano and the violin. There are myriad difficulties here for both instrumentalists and they both deal with them extremely well. The ending is again quiet and rather unexpected. This does not affect the overall shape of the piece which is well on the way to be one my favourite violin Sonatas - it really is that good. Wonderful stuff and excellently played.

The Suite that follows is made up of four movements, beginning with a quite restrained Toccata - when compared to some other Toccatas I’ve heard. However, again, there are plenty of notes here to keep both participants busy. There is a rather ‘ear-wormy’ tune around 2:45 which is very amiable and cheerful. Things come to an abrupt halt around the 4:00 mark with some very strange writing for piano, before the violin comes back in again but on its own. This includes some rather impressive double-stopping. This doesn’t last long before the piano joins in again with both instruments building to a rather more restrained final two minutes which contain some lovely writing for both parties. There's a short and quite violent conclusion.

The Ballade is gorgeous and I really don’t see why this isn’t heard more often; it really is splendid. The violin weaves a thoroughly memorable tune while the piano provides restrained and quiet accompaniment. There is much of interest here, as I have said before, stuffed with memorable tunes and some very warm playing. This is especially from Natalia Prishepenko who provides lovely tone as well as making the music feel ‘smiley’. The following ‘Intermezzo’ is a short and bouncy Allegro which is again cheerful and memorable. Lastly follows a ‘Recitativ and Tarantella’. This starts in an almost Scottish way with most work being done by the violin. The first couple of minutes are a little like a Bach prelude before the two instruments start with the Tarantella around 2:45. This is foot-tapping stuff and really rather fun. Again the main theme is another 'ear-worm' for me. The piece ends very happily in the major key after some pyrotechnics from both performers. I’ll return to this disc often as this is a great disc.

The individual movements here are not especially long which means that none of the music outstays its welcome; that said, nothing is too short – everything is perfectly judged by composer and performers alike. Philipp Scharwenka seemed to be especially good at writing quiet endings for this combination of instruments and these put in an appearance in many of the movements on this disc.

I will have to investigate this composer further. I am very familiar with the several discs of music by his brother, Franz Xaver but somehow, until now, have managed to overlook Philipp.

Overall this is a splendid disc with sterling work from both instrumentalists, a very good recorded sound and some interesting cover notes. These provide loads of useful information about this unjustly neglected composer. This CD is also quite well filled with a running time of over 65 minutes. I would like to hear this duo in the remainder of Philipp Scharwenka’s works for this combination of instruments.

Jonathan Welsh

Previous review: Bob Stevenson


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