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Franz REIZENSTEIN (1911-1968)
Violin Sonata in G sharp, Op.20 (1945) [37:56]
Geoffrey BUSH (1920-1998)
Violin Sonata (1945) [18:23]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor (1917) [22:18]
Steinberg Duo: Louisa Stonehill (violin), Nicholas Burns (piano)
rec. January 2016, Françoys-Bernier Concert Hall, Domaine Forget, Saint-Irénée, Quebec
LYRITA SRCD.360 [68:05]

This triptych of British violin sonatas bears a wartime theme. Ireland’s A minor famously elevated his name to prestige on its 1917 premiere, whereas the sonatas by Geoffrey Bush - this is its premiere recording - and Franz Reizenstein date from 1945.

Lyrita has an older recording of the Ireland in its catalogue, by Yfrah Neaman and Eric Parkin, now handily contained in an all-Ireland chamber music box (SRCD.2271). This newcomer does not in any way replicate the rather excessive breadth of that disc. The Steinberg Duo prefers tempos that more approximate those of the composer himself, whose unequalled 1930 recording with dedicatee Albert Sammons, which was never issued at the time, is on Dutton. Louisa Stonehill‘s focused, slim tone is well varied, and she utilises portamenti with stylish and stylistically apt discretion. At the vivid tempo adopted, the music’s structure is never in danger of failing, though one could perhaps wish for more of a sense of quasi-improvisation in the slow movement, where the phrasing could be freer. If her tone sounds pinched now and again, the recording or balance may have something to do with it, as Nicholas Burns’s passionate pianism sometimes covers Stonehill’s more reserved, smaller-scaled playing. The finale suffers somewhat from a lack of tonal weight from the violinist.

Cast in one movement, the 18-minute sonata by Bush has hardly ever been performed. Its sense of chromatic flux is attractive and so too is its ripe lyricism. Its unsettled, constantly flitting nature is underpinned by taut rhythm and the slow material is full of pathos. A little festive, fresh-faced dance section announces the “finale” in delightful fashion. The nervous nature of the work is very well brought out.

Possibly Reizenstein’s best-known violin work is the 1939 Prologue, Variations and Finale, recorded shortly thereafter by Max Rostal and the composer, and once more to be found on a generous Dutton CD. It is a more unsettled work by far than Bush’s more quiescent one. Its emotive states journey from a taut terseness reminiscent of Hindemith to a more explicit lyric vein. If there are hints of Shostakovich in the fast central movement, it is because of the percussive drama of the writing, and not least the violin’s furtive song set against the piano’s more combative persona. The misterioso finale is well conveyed in this performance. The violin’s grave musing alternates with more sinewy writing; this quasi-impressionist element is highly effective.

Notwithstanding certain reservations regarding the balance, and aspects of the performances, this is an interesting CD with pertinent notes written by the pianist. Personally, I would have preferred a work contemporary with the two 1945 sonatas, given there are numerous examples of the Ireland available on disc.

Jonathan Woolf