Strauss: Sonata for Violin and Piano; Franz Waxman: Tristan and Isolde—Love
Music; Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Marietta’s Lied from “Der Tote Stadt”; Four
Pieces for Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing”; Fritz Kreisler: Alt-Wiener
Tanzweisen; Wagner/Leopold Auer: “Träume” from Wesendonck-Lieder. Svetlin Roussev, violin; Yeol Eum Son, piano. Naïve.
Bortkiewicz: Violin Sonata, Op. 26; Viktor Kosenko: Violin Sonata, Op. 18;
Myroslav Skoryk: Violin Sonata No. 2.
Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; Steven Beck, piano. Naxos. $13.99.
A curious collation of substantial music with encore-like material, a new
Naïve CD featuring Svetlin Roussev and Yeol Eum Son seems to have no right to
come across as well as it does. The material it offers is simply too different,
coming from composers of widely varying strengths at widely varying times in
their careers. Making it all fit together appears, at best, highly unlikely.
But Roussev and Son bring the whole thing off remarkably successfully, transforming
what could have been a mishmash of marginally related material into a solid,
well-performed collection of pieces that turn out to have a great deal in
common both emotionally and musically. The most significant work on the disc is
the violin sonata in E-flat by the young Richard Strauss, who composed the
piece in 1887, when he was 23. It is a very Brahmsian piece, and it would be
exaggerating to say that Strauss already asserts his own voice in it. But it is
a substantial and highly emotional sonata, well-structured and very deeply
Romantic – as well as small-r romantic, having been written to express the
composer’s love for his soon-to-be wife. The central Andante cantabile is simply gorgeous, a love song in every sense of
the term, and Roussev and Son play it with great sensitivity and understanding.
This is neither the first work presented on the disc nor the last, however – although
its emotional heft certainly ties it into a release bearing the overall title
of “Love Music.” The opening and concluding pieces on the CD both draw on music
by Richard Wagner. The first work is essentially a lovely meditation on
Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, written for Jascha
Heifetz by Franz Waxman (1906-1967). It is almost achingly beautiful and is
played here for all it is worth. The CD’s other bookend, appearing at the end,
is a Leopold Auer arrangement for violin and piano of one of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder – specifically Träume, which actually quotes Tristan and which Roussev and Son play
in A-flat, the same key used by Waxman (Auer’s version is in A). Like other
elements of this CD, this transposition is a chancy undertaking that could
easily misfire, but the performers’ sensitivity to the music and its underlying
emotions lead to an effective and affecting performance in which the
Wagner/Auer material does indeed tie neatly to the Wagner/Waxman work. Neither
of those pieces really relates directly to the Strauss sonata from a musical
standpoint, although both share in its intense emotionalism. And the remaining
works on the disc share similar sensibilities. These include two pieces by
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), like Waxman a talented composer best known
for film music; and the three little Alt-Wiener
Tanzweisen by Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) – and although Korngold, Kreisler
and Waxman are all thought of as 20th-century figures, their
approaches as heard here are as clearly in the Romantic vein as are those of
Wagner and the young Richard Strauss. The violin-and-piano arrangement of the
aria from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt
speaks as eloquently as does the vocal original, while the four Much Ado about Nothing vignettes are
lighter but still mostly sweet, albeit with a touch of Mahlerian acerbity in March of the Watch and some suitable
scurrying in the concluding Hornpipe.
As for Kreisler’s three little dances, the extremely well-known Liebesfreud is as Viennese as it can be,
the Liebeslied that follows is more
softspoken and wistful, and the concluding Schön
Rosmarin is bright, elegant and pithy (lasting just two minutes). There is
a certain magic to this CD in the way it unites disparate music so the
combination of material makes more sense to the ear than it makes when
considered objectively by the brain. Love may not conquer all, but in this case it connects all the parts surprisingly well.
The connections among the three Ukrainian composers heard on a new Naxos CD are ones of geography, of course, but they are also ones more of sensibility than of time period. All three are heard in 20th-century works, but these violin-and-piano pieces date to very different times in the century even though they share sensibilities to a surprising extent. The disc includes two pieces from the 1920s framing one from the 1990s – an interesting arrangement. The CD opens with the two-movement sonata by Viktor Kosenko (1896-1938), which has as strong a Romantic temperament as does Richard Strauss’ early violin-and-piano sonata. Kosenko’s A minor piece, which dates to 1927, is so strongly redolent of its time and of emotional expressiveness that it is somewhat surprising to realize that this reading by Solomiya Ivakhiv and Steven Beck is its world premiѐre recording. The performance is thoroughly convincing, neatly highlighting the differences between the two movements while also drawing attention to their underlying emotional parallels. This is followed by a three-movement sonata from 1991 by Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020) – a work that, unsurprisingly, is considerably more pointed and dissonant than Kosenko’s, but that also insists on an underlying lyricism in the violin line even though its tonal language is less than soothing. The gently rocking piano in the second movement, marked Andante con moto, makes an especially effective contrast to the thoughtful and rather melancholic violin line, while the brief finale lives up to its title of Burlesque with a kind of caustic post-Shostakovich determination. After this, it is more than a bit jolting to listen to the 1922 sonata in G minor by Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952), the longest work on the disc and the one whose composer is best-known (although scarcely a household name). Here Ivakhiv and Beck take listeners back to Romantic-era warmth, to a violin line at times plaintive, at others pointed, with a near-operatic first movement followed by a broadly conceived and crepuscular Andante and a bright and bouncy finale that barely seems to come from the same sound world as the first two movements – and that serves as a sort of self-contained encore to the sonata and to this impressively played CD as a whole. The ability of violin-and-piano works to convey a very wide range of feelings and emotions is everywhere apparent both on this CD and on the one featuring Roussev and Son, despite the very different provenance of the specific pieces presented on both discs.