Rebuilding Beauty – Music during the First World War
Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968)
Violin Sonata in A major (1918-19) [28:58]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata (1917) [14:10]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Violin Sonata JW VII/7 (1914, rev. 1922) [17:38]
E.A MARIO (Giovanni Gaeta) (1884-1961)
La Leggenda del Piave arr. Domenico Sossai [1:49]
Bandiera Nera – La tradotta arr. Domenico Sossai [4:43]
Dino Sossai (violin)
Michele Bolla (piano)
rec.2013, Limen Music Studio, Milan
Includes DVD of performances of all works, historical films, and special content
LIMEN MUSIC CDVD019C019 [67:01 + DVD: 93:00]

There have been a number of series and one-off releases devoted to music composed during the First World War – Hortus, for example, has devoted itself to an extensive and subtle exploration of wide-ranging repertoire. Limen’s entry takes music from ‘three fronts’, as it were, by presenting the violin sonatas of Pizzetti, Debussy and Janáček; thus we have the Austro-Italian front, the Western and the Eastern. It’s also an audio-visual experience with one disc devoted to the music and the other to performances of the music with special content added. This includes both musicians talking about the circumstances of the sonatas’ composition, as well as footage from the Italian Front which is interspersed across the three edit points for the sonatas.

So this is a somewhat unusual experience that reflects the enthusiasm of Dino Sossai and Michele Bolla for the project. Nevertheless, even acknowledging the fact that footage of the Austrian-Italian campaign is much more rarely encountered in countries that campaigned on the Western front – and thus inherently of historical interest – the musical performances are the central focus of interest. Pizzetti’s under-performed Sonata is a major work. Menuhin’s 78rpm recording should have established it as an important work of its time but somehow it’s not quite happened, and recorded performances are still thin on the ground. This one is sensitively shaped and touchingly sympathetic in the beautiful slow movement. Somewhat small-scaled in tonal matters, the duo is most sensitive to the lyric intimacies embedded amidst the martial dynamism, not least in the opening movement.

The tempi in the Debussy reflect the contemporary norm – which is to say they are strikingly divergent from Franco-Belgians of the past such as Thibaud, Francescatti and Dubois. Sossai essays some portamenti in emulation of period style but his overt romanticism tends toward overstatement, so that the fantasy and rapid conjunctions of the music are dissipated. The finale is too dogged at this tempo, its heavy italicisation lacking lift and light. Much better tempo decisions occur in the Janáček where the ethos is again quite ripe in places. Some passages do, however, remain stubbornly lumpy.

The two songs that bookend the programme are beautifully done. Throughout, the recording is what I’d characterise as ‘forceful’ and there’s not much bloom to the sound. The project then has merit, but not all the performances compel.

Jonathan Woolf