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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in A major, D. 574 'Grand Duo' (1817) [22.19]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata for violin and piano, JW 7/7 [17.50]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Divertimento (transcribed for violin and piano by the composer and Samuel Dushkin from the ballet 'Le baiser de la fée' (The Fairy's Kiss) [20.21]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta [8.54]
Benjamin Beilman (violin)
Yekwon Sunwoo (piano)
rec. 18-21 August 2015 Fraser Performance Studio, WGBH Radio, Boston, USA
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 600897 [69.28]

Entitled Spectrum this album is violinist Benjamin Beilman’s debut for Warner Classics comprising works for violin and piano by Schubert, Janáček, Stravinsky and Kreisler. Beilman is joined by his regular recital partner the pianist Yekwon Sunwoo; both are alumni of the renowned Curtis Institute, Philadelphia.

Earning his living as a school teacher, in 1817 Schubert wrote four Sonatas for violin and piano. The first three were published posthumously as Sonatinas followed the next year by the Sonata in A major titled Duo which has become known as the Grand Duo - which is the opening work here. I’d rather ignored Schubert’s works for violin and piano until during an interview I had with Anne-Sophie Mutter prior to her recital at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester in 2012, she said “the Schubert Fantasie in C major which I am playing tonight is the crown of chamber music repertoire Seriously, it is the greatest piece ever written for violin and piano.” Curiosity made me search out Schubert’s output for violin and piano and the excellent recording by Radu Lupu and Szymon Goldberg from 1978 at Kingsway, Hall, London on Decca has served me well. Despite such strong competition Beilman and Sunwoo give a rewarding performance high in integrity, fresh and highly alert with an especially commendable opening movement Allegro: Moderato.

Written between 1913 and 1921 Janáček’s Violin Sonata took an unusually long time to compose owing to his frequent revision of the score. Janáček composed the bulk of the score at the beginning of the Great War “when we were waiting for the Russians in Moravia”. This remark sheds some light on the noticeable Russian colouration of some of the melodic turns in the score. Janáček’s subsequent revisions were made during the unsettling events of war as well as in the midst of two passionate romances and the ending of his marriage. Demonstrating their intelligence and interpretive skill Beilman and Sunwoo provide a passionate swathe of sound that I find eminently satisfying. In the Janáček my first choice account is the one buoyantly played by Josef Suk and Rudolf Firkušný recorded live from 1992 at the Prague Spring International Music Festival, Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague on Supraphon.

Stravinsky’s Divertimento is a four movement suite transcribed for violin and piano prepared by the composer and assisted by violinist Samuel Dushkin from the ballet Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss). One is immediately struck by the duo’s assured playing in a performance of considerable bite and wit. Since its release in 1990 I have greatly admire the engaging account from Viktoria Mullova and Bruno Canino on Philips and also recommendable is the captivating 2000 Grimisuat account by Vadim Repin and Boris Berezovsky on Erato.

Austrian/American violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler was also an enthusiastic composer. He wrote operettas and songs but mainly wrote in miniature forms, providing encore pieces for his instrument that he could use in concert performance. Amongst the best known work are his Liebesleid, Liebesfreud, Caprice Viennois, Shon Rosmarin and Tambourin Chinois. Here Beilman has selected Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta a work published in 1948, imbued with the waltz tradition of the composer’s birthplace of Vienna. Beilman is very much at home with the waltz rhythms, astutely bringing out that often remarked upon bitter-sweet quality.

Recorded at the Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH Radio, Boston the engineering team for Warner provides a sound quality that is reasonably clear although the violin sound is slightly unsteady. On this recording the timbre of Beilman’s violin, a Peter Greiner of 2004, sounds rather ordinary with Sunwoo’s piano having a more attractive tone.

Benjamin Beilman and Yekwon Sunwoo demonstrate tremendous promise in this attractive studio recital programme. Whilst not my first choice recordings in each work these performances are attractive ones, fresh, unaffected and characteristically perceptive with ample buoyancy.

Michael Cookson


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