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Max Rostal (violin)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin sonata No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 12/3 [19:31]
Violin sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30/1 [23:45]
Violin sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30/2 [25:55]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 1 in G major for Violin and Piano, Op. 78 [28:12]
Sonata No. 2 in A major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100 [20:03]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Adagio in E major, K261 (1776) and Rondo in C major, K373 [12:35]
Niccoló PAGANINI (1782-1840)
24 Caprices Op. 1: No.20 in D Major [3:37]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata in E minor, BWV 1023 [11:17]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704)
Passacaglia in G minor for solo violin [8:52]
Maria Bergmann (piano) (Brahms 1)
Heinz Schröter (piano) (Brahms 2, Beethoven 6 and 7)
Ilse von Alpenheim (piano) (Beethoven 3)
Eugen Huber (piano) (Mozart and Paganini)
Lothar Broddack (piano) (Bach)
rec. 1956-1965, Baden-Baden, Studio 6; Hannover, Studio A, Funkhaus; Bern, Funkstudio; Berlin, Saal 3; Ettlingen, Schloss
MELOCLASSIC MC2033 [74:11 + 79:39]

Max Rostal was born in Teschen, a town on the Austrian Hungarian border, in 1905. When he was eight, his family relocated to Vienna, enabling him to study with Arnold Rosé, concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic and leader of the Rosé String Quartet. In 1919 he moved to Vienna to study with Carl Flesch. It was soon evident that he had a natural aptitude for teaching, and from 1930-1933 he taught at the Berlin Hochschule. When the Nazis came to power he moved to London and took up a teaching post at the Guildhall School of Music, which he held from 1944-1958. He then returned to Cologne, where he taught until 1982, concurrently holding a similar position at the Conservatory in Bern, Switzerland. Here he died on August 6, 1991, at the age of 86. Aside from his pedagogical activities, he maintained a solo career, and was an enthusiastic champion of contemporary music. His interpretation of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto gained admiration in some quarters. He premiered Alan Bush's Concerto in 1949. He also performed works by Bax, Moeran, Stevens, Frankel and Lennox Berkeley.

In addition to a very limited number of commercial recordings, Rostal graced the radio stations on occasion. In London, he broadcast for the BBC. What we have here are several broadcasts he made in Germany and Switzerland between 1956 and 1965. The focus is on core Classical repertoire, and there are no twentieth century works included, which is a pity.

Sonatas by Beethoven and Brahms make up the bulk. There's an abundance of warmth and elegance in the sunny reaches of Beethoven's Op. 30, No. 1, and it provides some soothing balm after the more turbulent character of the fateful C minor, Op. 30, No. 2. Heinz Schröter is Rostal's partner in both sonatas, set down in the early months of 1961. It is, however, the Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12, No. 3, which is the highlight. It’s a performance of nobility and stature, and the playing from both violinist and pianist is bold and audacious. The Adagio is ravishingly contoured, and the finale overflows with energy and vitality. Ilse von Alpenheim, who married Antal Doráti, addresses the technical challenges of the demanding piano part with authority. The sound quality and instrumental balance of this later 1965 broadcast gives it the edge. Von Alpenheim is a wonderful pianist. I recently reviewed her traversal of the complete Haydn Piano Sonatas, released by the Antal Doráti Society (review).

Of the two Brahms sonatas offered, the First, taped in 1956, is the less successful. Rostal and Maria Bergman don’t strike me as a partnership made in heaven. Rather the pianist adopts a subsidiary role, in relation to the violinist's over-projected performance. I don’t detect any meeting of minds. Rostal’s reading is over-indulgent, and his excessive use of portamenti is a misjudgement in my view. Over-gilding-the-lily is a phrase that springs to mind. Fast forward five years and we have Brahms Second Sonata - what a difference! Here the violinist tames his instincts and the outcome is a reading that ticks all the right boxes. Heinz Schröter is a more sympathetic partner, resulting in some intelligent, deeply felt music making, where the musicians listen to each other.

So, what of the rest? The Mozart Adagio and Rondo are conveyed with elegance and graceful simplicity. Rostal surmounts the virtuosic challenges of the Paganini Caprice No. 20 with consummate ease; however, I personally don’t care for the caprices accompanied on the piano. The Bach Sonata in E minor is very welcome, as it’s much less familiar than the six Sonatas BWV 1014–1019. Rostal’s performance is idiomatic and also evinces a cogent sense of style. The Biber Passacaglia for solo violin I’ve never come across before. It’s an attractive work, which is delivered with compelling musicality.

Although remembered principally as a pedagogue and rather underrated as a violinist, these valuable recorded documents will hopefully go some way to redressing the balance. These are most enjoyable discs of generous playing time, and finely restored. Documentation, as always with Meloclassic, is first class. I don’t think anyone buying this twofer will be disappointed.

Stephen Greenbank
 
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

 

 




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