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Violin Plus One
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Romance, op.11 (1877) [11:59]
Pyotr Ilich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Sérénade mélancolique op.26 (1875) [8:59]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, op.25 (1896) [15:11]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Romance, op.26 (1881) [7:48]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Méditation from Thaïs (1894) [4:56]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Nigun (Improvisation), from Baal Shem (1923) [7:13]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso op.28 (1863, transcr. 1870 for violin and piano by Georges Bizet) [9:45]
Piet Koornhof (violin), Albie van Schalkwyk (piano)
rec. 2016/2018, Conservatoire Hall, School of Music, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
DELOS DE3577 [67:01]

The title of this charming disc of little contemplative pieces for violin refers to the fact that all of these Late Romantic compositions were originally written for violin and orchestra. They are performed here in transcriptions for violin with just a piano alongside. All of the pieces were transcribed by their composers, with the exception of the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, which was arranged by Georges Bizet.

These pieces are given a lovely performance by South African violinist Piet Koornhof, with noted accompanist Albie van Schalkwyk. Dvořák’s Romance op.11 is based on the slow movement of his quartet #5. Koornhof uses a strong singing tone that is exceedingly well-suited to this piece.

Showing his versatility, Koornhof switches to a rather grainy and mournful sound from his instrument for Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade melancolique, op.26. This shift of character is a welcome antidote to performances of this piece that often all too easily slide into the saccharine. Koornhof gives us a moody Tchaikovsky, but not a self-indulgent one.

Poème, op.25 by Chausson is a fascinating study in Koornhof’s hands, alternating between the dreamy and the nightmarish, concluding in a series of mesmerizing trills. It’s quite extraordinary. Less well known is Johan Svendsen’s Romance op.26. This Norwegian piece offers a gorgeous melody loaded with an undercurrent of heartache.

Few pieces for violin are as beloved as the Méditation, the music from between the acts of Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Koornhof acquits himself well, using long, languorous phrases that eventually work themselves into a lather. The performers are more than willing to go for the schmaltz that this piece begs for.

The middle section of Bloch’s Baal Shem, Nigun, offers an interesting contrast to Massenet, as it revels in an improvisatory manner through the ethnic and exotic, with some truly chilling moments. Koornhof goes with great gusto into this piece, and offers a particularly fine rendition. We note that our initial review disc contained a serious editing error in this track. Delos has provided us with the replacement disc, which they say should be the only one available from retail outlets. The corrected disc is light blue, rather than the original version’s black or very dark blue. Unfortunately, Delos indicates there is no way to tell the corrected versions from the outside of the package, but I expect they will be happy to replace any of the original discs that slipped into the wild.

The highlight of the disc for me was Bizet’s arrangement of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, which had initially been intended as the finale for Saint-Saëns’ first violin concerto. Koornhof provides us with a big finish as he offers brazen panache in the Rondo, giving a boldness and vigor to the composition that I’ve often longed for but seldom heard.

The recording quality is better than satisfactory. Even though some of the pieces were recorded years apart, I didn’t detect any notable differences in quality. Dynamic range is excellent, and the soundstage is a quite well-defined space. This is an exceedingly enjoyable hour of violin that would have been highly recommended if not for the startling blunder in the Bloch piece.

Mark S. Zimmer

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