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Josef LABOR (1842-1924)
Cello Sonata No 1 in A major, Op 7 (1895) [20:31]
Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor, Op 5 (1891 [27:14]
Theme and Variations for Horn (or cello) and piano, Op 10 (1895-6) [8:28]
Floris Mijnders (cello), Nina Karmon (violin), Přemysl Vojya (horn), Oliver Triendl (piano)
rec. April 2020, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
CAPRICCIO C5430 [56:11]

Josef Labor’s work list is relatively small in number, not much more than 80 compositions in total. Largely this is as a result of his concert career as an esteemed organist, and pianist – in which capacity he made a tiny number of recordings – and his extensive teaching practice.

His Violin Sonata No 1 dates from 1891 and its flowing lyricism indicates Brahms as a primary influence, not unsurprising in the case of the Vienna-based Labor. Thematically attractive, this well laid out four-movement work enshrines a rather ‘antique’ element in its slow movement, as its indication of Tempo di Menuetto-Quasi Sicilienne would indicate though, in this performance at least, there seems too little tempo contrast between the opening two movements. The finale shows Labor at his best in its quasi-improvisatory way but, true to form, though he prioritises lyricism it’s never forceful; Labor remains a genial, generous composer. In terms of recorded balance I think Oliver Triendl’s piano is privileged over violinist Nina Karmon.

The Cello Sonata No 1 was written a few years later. Again, there is a feeling of free-flowing unimpeded lyricism, the piano busy, the cello serenely lyric, that marks out Labor’s priorities in sonata repertoire. There is plenty of Late Romantic ardour, as well as lissom frolicsome material in the Scherzo with the piano - Labor’s own instrument – leading. The compact third movement is a Quasi andante that functions much as an intermediary bridge to the finale which is energetic and has plenty of athletic esprit. The balance between the instruments is better here.

The final work is the Theme and Variations for Horn (or cello) and piano, written soon after the Cello Sonata. There’s Beethovenian precedent for the structure of this work, and its alpine warmth, finely brought out by Přemysl Vojya, its metric changes and varied characterisation of its variations are all most attractive and so too is the confident end to this eight-minute work, a fine addition to the horn-and-piano repertoire, though Labor sanctioned the use of a cello as well.

Labor was a genial composer who never aspired to empyrean realms. There is a lyric practicality and a self-containment of means and expression that ensure that nothing disturbs the dappled calmness of his music-making. There’s a smallness, perhaps, to much of his writing but it’s affectionate and well crafted.

Jonathan Woolf

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