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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Violin & Piano in G minor [14:07]
Leoš JANACEK (1854-1928)
Sonata for Violin & Piano [17:19]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Sonata for Violin & Piano in E flat major, Op.18 [31:03]
Aitzol Iturriagagoitia (violin)
Enrique Bagaría (piano)
rec. 2018, Sala Mozart, Zaragoza, Spain
EUDORA EUD-SACD-1903 [62:36]

Having these three largely contemporaneous violin sonatas juxtaposed on a single disc provides a fascinating glimpse into the strange mind-set of early 20th century composers. At a time when chamber music seemed an irrelevance in the face of the competing schools of the over-the-top post-Wagner Romanticism of Mahler and early Schoenberg and the desiccated experimentation of the so-called Second Viennese School, they seem almost to have been caught up in some time-warp, where late 18th and early 19th century ideals held sway barely touched by subsequent developments.

In the case of both Debussy and Janáček, a late interest in the violin sonata was in large part a consequence of the reflective introspection brought on by the horrors of war and invasion – a longing, it could be argued, for the peaceful and safe days of their youth. For Richard Strauss the violin sonata was more a youthful attempt to appease his own father by showing his mettle in comparison with the great 18th century masters. Yet while all the works might be seen as anachronistic both in their time and in the context of the three composers, they are so imbued with the mastery of the composing art gained by either experience or natural inclination and the confidence of composers happy in their own stylistic skins, that they each possess such a distinct musical character that the repertory would be very much the poorer without them.

Both violinist Aitzol Iturriagagoitia and pianist Enrique Bagaría are natives of the Iberian Peninsula, the former born in the Basque country the latter in Catalonia. Their performances can be said to have a certain exotic feel to them, which gives the music a somewhat distant and cloudy feel. Which is not to say that these are performances lacking in either fire or textural clarity, but that the performances emphasise the darker and more elusive features of the three works. Indeed, there are several moments in the Debussy where one almost senses a whiff of Falla’s French-infused Spanishness – not least in the very closing bars which resemble nothing other than some kind of obsessive ritual dance.

That angular, dancing spirit is very much in evidence with the opening of the Janáček Sonata, and while there is much here which is thoroughly redolent of the composer, this performance emphasises more the rhythmic and remote aspects than those typically reflective bursts of consciousness which are so typical of Janáček’s music. This is a Sonata which does not figure largely in the recording catalogues, so it is good to have this performance which is certainly accomplished and colourful.

Although Strauss was only in his mid-20s when he wrote his Sonata, there are nevertheless many hallmarks of his later style to be found, as well as a strong feeling of empathy for the instrument – he was, after all, the only one of three composers represented actually to have been a violinist. He was also far more expansive than the others, with his Sonata stretching almost as long as the other two combined. The opening figure finds Iturriagagoitia in full ecstatic Strauss mode, while Bagaría brings a pleasing touch of richness to the piano part here. But this momentary burst of something more Pan-European is relatively short-lived, for once again, the emphasis on the crispness and angularity of the rhythms seems rooted in the world of Spanish dance, while the frequent bouts of sentimentality have more the warmth of southern Europe than the open-spiritedness of Bavaria.

Marc Rochester

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