Mozart: Divertimento in E-flat, K. 563; String Trio in G, K. 562e (fragment). Henning Kraggerud, violin; Lars Anders Tomter, viola; Christoph Richter, cello. Naxos. $9.99.
Respighi: Violin Concerto in A; Aria for Strings; Suite for Strings; Rossiniana. Laura Marzadori, violin; Chamber Orchestra of New York ‘Ottorino Respighi’ conducted by Salvatore Di Vittorio. Naxos. $9.99.
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Music for Violin and Piano. Pekka Kuusisto, violin; Paavali Jumppanen, piano. Ondine. $16.99.
The expressive as well as virtuosic potential of the violin is well known, but composers have handled the instrument very differently through the years. One of Mozart’s greatest and most appealing pieces combines the violin with only two other instruments, viola and cello, to produce a work that the composer surely knew was far more than the lighthearted, lightweight one implied by the title Divertimento. This is a six-movement, three-quarters-of-an-hour work of great beauty and profundity, seamlessly interweaving the three string instruments into a gorgeous sonic tapestry while also exploring their individual – as well as combined – sonority and expressive potential. Henning Kraggerud, Lars Anders Tomter and Christoph Richter are not a formally organized trio, and that fact sometimes shows through in ensemble passages that are very well played but that lack the apparently intuitive grasp of what each player is thinking and is about to do that the best trios show. Still, this performance is very well played, and even though the performers (especially Kraggerud and Tomter) are frequently heard as soloists, they do a fine job of subsuming any tendency toward competitive display here, with each player allowing the others their moments to shine. That is exactly what this music requires: cooperativeness at the highest level as well as exceptionally sensitive and skilled playing. This is a short CD, even with the inclusion of a four-minute fragment of another Mozart work for the same ensemble; but the pleasures of this music last a very long time indeed.
Well over a century later, the violin appears in very different form in the 1903 concerto in A by Ottorino Respighi. The composer never finished this work – the version heard in its world première on a new Naxos CD was revised and completed by conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio, who is himself a composer. This concerto is largely composed with a look backwards, toward the concertos of Mendelssohn and other Romantic-era composers, although its emotional content seems more like the donning of an expected garment than a genuine expression of inner feelings. There is a fair degree of virtuosic display here – all of which Laura Marzadori handles quite well – but not so much plumbing of emotional depths. The work is most interesting for its coloristic handling of the orchestra: written two decades before the Roman Trilogy, it foreshadows some of the effects that Respighi would later use. Also on this CD is another Respighi world première recording: the Aria for Strings, transcribed by Di Vittorio. It is a short and graceful work of no great importance. The Suite for Strings, heard here in a Di Vittorio revision, is more substantial and more interesting, filled with grace and elegance that reflect the music and sensibilities of older times – which always fascinated Respighi, as shown most notably in his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances. Indeed, this work somewhat resembles the third Ancient Airs and Dances suite, the only one written for strings rather than full orchestra. The fourth work on this CD is a suite of another sort: Rossiniana, which is less known and somewhat less ebullient than La boutique fantasque but carries much of the same verve in this nicely played performance. The CD as a whole offers a pleasant mixture of unknown Respighi works with one whose comparative familiarity helps put the others in perspective.
The music of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928) is in general less familiar to audiences, and a new recording of some of his pieces for violin and piano, although very well played, is unlikely to change that. Rautavaara’s larger-scale works (symphonies, concertos, operas) are somewhat more impressive than the miniatures offered here, resulting in a (+++) rating for the CD. Four of the seven pieces heard on this disc are world première recordings: Lost Landscapes (2005), Summer Thoughts (1972/2008), April Lines (1970/2006), and Dithyrambos (1970). All are nicely constructed in a modern compositional idiom that lies more easily on the ear than is often the case with the music of 20th- and 21st-century composers. Also on the CD are Notturno e danza (1993), whose two movements are effectively contrasted, and Variétude (1974), a cleverly titled work for solo violin that nicely displays the performer’s technique. The final work on the disc is especially interesting: Pelimannit (The Fiddlers), a suite for piano that dates back all the way to 1952. It is written entirely for piano but based entirely on traditional Finnish fiddle tunes – and in this recording, Pekka Kuusisto plays each of those tunes before Paavali Jumppanen performs each of the movements of the suite. The result is an intriguing opportunity to hear a composer’s sources of inspiration – and how he alters them in his chosen instrumental and compositional idiom. Although Rautavaara’s music has not caught on internationally to the same extent as that of his countryman Sibelius, it is generally interesting and certainly worth occasional hearings, even if most of the short-form works on this CD are somewhat less engaging than Rautavaara’s larger and more ambitious compositions.