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Max Rostal (violin)
Twentieth-Century Violin Sonatas
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857–1934)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, Op 82 (1918) [26:42]
Sir William WALTON (1902–1983)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1949) [27:47]
Marcel MIHALOVICI (1898–1985)
Sonata No 2 for Violin and Piano, Op 45 (1941) [25:42]
Maurice RAVEL (1875–1937)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, M.77 (1923-27) [18:35]
Frederick DELIUS (1862–1934)
Sonata No 2 for Violin and Piano (1923) [14:20]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866–1924)
Sonata No 2 for Piano and Violin in E minor, Op 36a (1900) [40:52]
Colin Horsley (piano: Elgar, Walton, Delius)
Monique Haas (piano: Mihalovici, Ravel)
Noel Mewton-Wood (piano: Busoni)
rec. Hollymount Studio, Hampstead, London, UK, Autumn 1954 (Elgar, Walton), 29 September 1954 (Delius), Autumn 1952 (Busoni); Beethovensaal, Hannover, Germany, October 1958 (Mihalovici, Ravel)
ELOQUENCE 4829059 [80:29 + 74:05]

Max Rostal hasn’t been entirely overlooked. There are live concerto performances of Bartók, Berg, Bernard Stevens and Shostakovich on Symposium (review), studio recordings from 1949-51 on Retrospective (review) and there are live performances from Germany and Switzerland on Meloclassic. Testament has issued the three British sonatas to be found in the disc under review on SBT1319. Examples of his studio collaboration with Franz Osborn in Beethoven and Brahms can be found on Forgotten Records FR1394 and the Busoni sonata can also be found on ABC (review) as part of a Mewton-Wood 3-CD set. The Documents label has cherry picked from commercial CDs to compile a 10-CD hairshirt edition; so far as I can hear they have simply cloned existing discs – but you will find five of the six sonatas in this Eloquence release there, the exception being the Busoni, should you wish to go down that route.

Otherwise, Eloquence has selected well, focusing on the period 1952 to 1958. Despite the dry unresonant Decca studio Rostal and Colin Horsley, a frequent collaborator in the studio and recital hall, give good accounts of Elgar, Walton and, to a lesser extent, Delius. They are at their finest in the Elgar in the central movement, capturing its twilit eeriness and moments of rapt expression. Equally they take a nicely broad tempo for the finale, ensuring they don’t have to slow too much for the reminiscence themes, though Rostal’s tonal thinness, exacerbated by the studio, is not always heard to advantage. The Delius is not in the same league, with a really sleepy Lento central section that devitalises the music, and whilst the finale is up to tempo Rostal’s tone is too tight to bring much Delian feeling. I very much prefer Henry Holst and Frank Merrick here (on Nimbus – see review). The best of the British trio is the Walton recording, not as fast as Menuhin and Kentner’s premiére LP, since multiply transferred to CD, but strong on veiled romance and, though once again limited by the shallow recording, showing a fine awareness of the complex elements enshrined in the Variations.

There are two sonata recordings with Monique Haas and they naturally turned up in the DG set dedicated to her (4776201 – with all her DG LP recordings). Marcel Mihalovici was her husband so one can expect an unusual level of authority and this is duly present. Her cantabile playing in the slow movement is truly beautiful, eclipsing, it has to be said, Rostal’s efficient playing but both players respond avidly to the music’s tartness and crisp declamatory qualities. They also recorded Ravel’s Sonata, where Rostal falters a little in the finale’s Perpetuum mobile but doesn’t overstate the Blues movement, to advantage. Once again Haas proves the superior exponent. I wrote about the Busoni in my Mewton-Wood review where, once again, we face a situation where the pianist has the superior technique and where Rostal’s tonal deficiencies can limit pleasure from time to time. But set against that is the determination and commitment to a big and complex score.

Happily, this release gives us the chance to appreciate Rostal and his piano colleagues in a good slice of the repertoire, with an acknowledged emphasis on British repertoire. This is a finely transferred, well annotated and handsome twofer.

Jonathan Woolf



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