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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Sonata in E minor (1919) [24:29]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Violin Sonata (1932) [23:05]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor (1915-1917) [24:41]
Susanne Stanzeleit (violin)
John Thwaites (piano)
No recording details
MERIDIAN CDE84648 [70:25]

Recordings of Elgar’s Violin Sonata continue to arrive thick and fast. Gone are the days when it was the preserve on LP of Max Rostal and Alan Loveday and their pianist colleagues: the late 50s and early 60s seem a discographic desert in comparison to the land of milk and honey today.

Susanne Stanzeleit is well-known for her excellent recordings of British music, both as recitalist and as violinist in the Primrose Piano Quartet, a group she founded alongside the pianist John Thwaites, so it makes perfect sense for them to be paired in these three sonatas, composed between the years 1917-32. Elgar’s Sonata receives a thoroughly direct, convincing reading and conforms to a recent trend toward a compact and unsentimental line in this work which in the recent past has often been played in a blatantly expansive, concertante kind of way. The playing is forceful though rubati ensure sufficient flexibility, and expressive gestures are always at the service of the music. The slow movement is sensitively shaped, the finale well-structured, its reminiscence theme affiliated to the direction of the music, as it should be, and not indulged.

John Ireland’s A minor Sonata, composed just before Elgar’s, again benefits from fast tempi, deft portamenti and a good sense of the work’s ebb and flow. There are a few phrasal moments in the slow movement that might jar, and it’s taken at a very fast tempo as well, but the finale is athletic and spirited with Thwaites finding something almost sinister in some of the writing. It is a War sonata, after all. This too has received excellent recordings over the years, from the composer with Albert Sammons in 1929 (on Dutton) onwards. The final sonata is Frank Bridge’s work of 1932 and the duo catches its sense of questing melancholy adeptly. It’s no surprise that they play the Poco tranquillo section of this one-movement but extensive work so adeptly. That said I rather prefer Thorsen and Brown’s phrasing on Hyperion, as well as the violinist’s tone production.

This brings me to the sound quality of this disc, a sore point. No location is noted but wherever it is and whatever the recording set up, Stanzeleit’s tone sounds very wiry and unrelieved and the acoustic rather boxy. It also results in a serious lack of colour and tonal variety. As she is noted as editor of the disc I can only assume she is happy with the results but for me the performances would have benefitted from a much more sympathetic and cushioned acoustic. Meridian calls this a Natural Sound Recording but the results are pretty wearying, so far as I’m concerned. A real shame.

Jonathan Woolf

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