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Otakar ŠEVČÍK (1852-1934)
Seven Bohemian Dances, Op 10 (pub 1898; 1928) [34:35]
Leopold AUER (1845-1930)
Rhapsodie hongroise, Op 5 (1882) [8:19]
Ręverie in G major, Op 3 (1873) [5:13]
Concert Tarantella in G minor, Op 2 (1874) [6:43]
Ręverie No 2 in E-flat major (pub 1901) [7:06]
Gran Duo Italiano
rec. April 2009, Studio ‘Phonotype’, Naples and October 2020, Centro Studi Musicali ‘Rosario Scalero’, Polla, Salerno
BRILLIANT 96213 [62:26]

Near contemporaries and major figures in violin pedagogy, Otakar Ševčík and Leopold Auer were both highly influential on the emergence of the Russian school. The former was Czech, the latter Hungarian and though both were fine players in their own right – especially in the realm of chamber music – their legacies reside in their many famous students and the enduring popularity of their written studies. That’s especially true of Ševčík.

Their concert music is happily conjoined here. Six of Ševčík’s seven Bohemian Dances were written in Russia and were published by Bosworth in 1898, by which time he had returned to his native land. The final dance was written much later in 1928. Influenced by popular Bohemian dance and song melodies there are also themes and variations, a furiant, cadential elements, and plenty of virtuosity. Three of the dances were dedicated to his most famous student, Jan Kubelík, whilst the seventh was dedicated to Jaroslav Kocián who had substituted for an ailing Ševčik at the Prague Conservatory.

I’ve never come across a recording of all seven dances so Mauro Tortorelli (violin) and Angela Meluso (piano), who form the modestly titled Gran Duo Italiano, are to be congratulated for their tenacity, given that the project stretched over more than a decade, three of the dances being recorded in 2009 and the remainder following in October 2020. They make a good case for the music and form a robust partnership. That said, some of these pieces have been recorded piecemeal before and show different facets of the music. If one turns from the Italian duo to the Czech virtuoso Ivan Kawaciuk, who recorded a couple of the dances on a 10” Supraphon LP, one finds a far greater degree of colour and pathos, as well as folkloric panache in his reading of the fifth dance. He eases into and out of the Paganinian elements with rare finesse – his recording of the Paganini Caprices is rightly famous - and his double harmonics in the first dance are superb. By comparison, the Italians’ tempi are inclined to be rather too slow, their ethos lacking in panache, accents lacking bite and playfulness and Czech rhythms are smoothed over. Karel Šroubek recorded the Furiant (No 10) on the same LP as Kawaciuk and though he is an obviously somewhat lesser player he still shows how subtle accenting lightens the music. Pavel Šporcl has recorded No 7, Andulko, at exactly the same tempo as the Grand Duo Italiano but he is more stylish and rhythmically alive and if you push the boat out Václav Snítl and Josef Hála also recorded it back in 1988 and ripped through it in record time.

There’s less competition, historically speaking, in the Auer discography. His Rhapsodie hongroise was dedicated to Sarasate and one can hear something of the Spaniard’s own virtuoso compositions in this energetic and fiery piece with its cimbalom evocations and virtuoso effects. The two Ręveries reveal Auer’s gift for profuse lyricism, though the second example tends towards the salon in places, whilst the Concert Tarantella in G minor, dating from 1874, is extremely tricky and though arguably more conventional in its demands, still takes some playing.

The notes are good but some of the pieces were recorded too closely for my personal taste. The first Ševčik dance is a casualty with a very noisy and lumpy piano action. The performers are dedicated and have reclaimed this music with honesty but listening to the likes of Kawaciuk will, I’m afraid, show what’s missing.

Jonathan Woolf

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