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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18 (1887) [28:55]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Duo-Concertant (1931-2) [15:27]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Violin Sonata (1942-43) [18:58]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano: Strauss)
Leo Smit (piano: Copland, Stravinsky)
rec. 1950, November 1955 (Strauss)

For those reared on the Heifetz versions of the Richard Strauss Sonata, the first movement in this 1955 Decca recording may be a disappointment. Fuchs and Balsam take a more spacious view, and the result is an absence of that energy and drive that makes the Heifetz readings exciting and thrilling. The other two movements fare better. The slow movement is ardent and tender, with the central muted section enveloped in a luminous glow. Balsam’s diaphanous accompaniment in this section has a gossamer-like delicacy. The finale has sufficient muscularity, drama and passion to pass muster. Fuchs is forwardly profiled, with Balsam’s piano recessed. It’s far from an ideal recording balance.

The Copland Violin Sonata is a glorious work and deserves wider recognition. I first got to know it via a compelling recording by Louis Kaufman with the composer himself at the piano. It is well worth seeking out (Bay Cities BCD 1019). The work dates from 1943 and bears a dedication to his friend Harry H. Dunham, who was shot down in the Pacific that same year. It has a melodically lavish and mellifluous flow, and is cast in three movements. Fuchs is here joined by Leo Smit, and who better? Smit (1921-1999) was an American composer and pianist, who regularly performed Copland’s music in his recitals. The familiarity is evident. The duo capture the spacious, pastoral character of the ‘Appalachian Spring’ atmosphere of the opening movement.  The central Lento is imbued with a reverential calm, whilst the finale is a delight, full of energy and optimism. Fuch’s crisply articulated bowings are to be admired.

Smit also partners Fuchs in Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant of 1932, dedicated to the violinist Samuel Dushkin. This five-movement work draws its inspiration from neo-classical literature, from which it takes its titles: Cantilène, Eclogue 1, Eclogue 2, Gigue, and Dithyrambe. The angular and abrasive Cantilène sits in total contrast to the two Eglogues which follow. The second, especially, is lyrically tender and warm. Gigue is jaunty and fickle, whilst Dithyrambe is radiant and transcending. Fuchs and Smit capture the very essence of this stunning work.

Whilst I could well live without the Strauss recording, there being many finer alternative versions, this release is worth its weight in gold for the Stravinsky and Copland. Both derive from Decca and Brunswick LPs and are here expertly remastered.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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