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Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor (1907) [25:55]
Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 16 (1909) [16:29]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Violin Sonata, FP 119 (1942/43, rev. 1949) [17:02]
Duo Artdeco Wien
rec. 2019, Tonstudio FM, Vienna

This new album on the Austrian Gramophone label consists of three attractive twentieth-century violin sonatas from Frenchmen Ropartz and Poulenc, and Swiss-born Schoeck. Their composition spanning thirty-six years, all the works are from the first half of the twentieth century. In truth, I rarely hear the Ropartz and Schoeck and the Poulenc is the most likely to be encountered.

Ropartz provides the earliest work on the album, the first of his three violin sonatas. Completed in 1907, this D minor score was dedicated by Ropartz to the violinist Eugène Ysaye and pianist Raoul Pugno. This elegant and praiseworthy work is admirably played by the Duo Artdeco Wien who comprise of violinist Setareh Najfar-Nahvi and Theresia Schumacher on piano. Beginning in a rather solemn character, the first movement has at its heart an intense melancholy. The focus of the central movement is an aching passion together with a quicker central section. Infused with folk dance melodies the duo in the jaunty finale establish a distinctly upbeat character. 

Schoeck is represented here by his Violin Sonata in D major. Composed in 1908-9, this is the second of his three contributions for violin and piano, the first sonata being a student work WoO22 from 1905. Schoeck dedicated this D major score to the Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer, with whom the composer fell in love. In the first movement, Najfar-Nahvi and Schumacher ensure that a sense of introspection pervades both its opening and its close, although in the squally central section the predominant mood is decidedly serious. That serious tone continues in the central movement with the partnership producing an intense longing that might easily reflect the anguish of a broken relationship. By contrast, the finale is light-hearted and frequently playful, and has an exuberant ending.

Poulenc composed his Violin Sonata in German-occupied France where he remained during the war years. It was premièred in Paris in 1943 by violinist Ginette Neveu, the commissioner of the score, Poulenc accompanying on piano. Tragically, Neveu died in a plane crash in 1949 and that same year Poulenc revised the sonata. Bitter-sweet in character, the sonata bears a dedication to the memory of Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca who was assassinated by the Fascists at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Najfar-Nahvi and Schumacher are on confident form here, maintaining assertive and ebullient playing in the fiery first movement. Serving as an elegy for Lorca, the central movement Intermezzo has a decidedly wistful quality to its congenial flow and is the emotional heart of the score. With resolute playing in the Presto tragico – finale, the duo produces a sense of rhythmic high-jinks, a disposition which in the coda changes drastically to one of tragedy and despair. My first-choice recording for the Poulenc is the captivating 2017 Grenoble account from Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko on Alpha.

Clearly treating this as a labour of love, Setareh Najfar-Nahvi and Theresia Schumacher play effectively throughout and their commitment to these works is never in doubt. Creating significant tension and atmosphere, their assured partnership responds with skill and understanding. Najfar-Nahvi’s violin in Celeste Farotto (1939) has an appealing tone and Schumacher’s piano produces a most glorious sound. There are no problems with the detailed sound quality recorded by the duo in the Tonstudio FM, Vienna. Theresia Schumacher is the author of the booklet essay. This album of violin sonatas might not be my first choice in the Poulenc sonata yet it is well worth obtaining for the Ropartz and Schoeck.

Michael Cookson

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