Janáček, Respighi & Richard Strauss – Violin Sonatas

0 of 5 stars

Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat, Op.18

Frank Almond (violin) & William Wolfram (piano)

Recorded 29-31 July 2005 in Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, Milwaukee

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: January 2007
CD No: AVIE AV 2113
Duration: 72 minutes

An imaginative and thoroughly worthwhile programme combining three unjustly neglected sonatas for violin and piano all of which – especially the Respighi – have maintained a slightly precarious existence at the fringes of the repertoire. Heifetz championed both the Strauss and the Respighi, but since then they have found few such masters, so it is a particularly good idea to collect all three works on one well-filled disc, the aphoristic and acerbic Janáček framed by the über-Romantic Respighi and Strauss.

Frank Almond, currently Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has also held positions as Leader of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and London Philharmonic orchestras; he plays a 1701 Stradivarius, which pays rich dividends in the Strauss. William Wolfram, the pianist, has a long-term Liszt project planned with Naxos.

Beginning the CD, Respighi’s violin sonata, his second, has attracted adverse criticism: “episodic, overwrought and melodramatic” being one response. However, behind a degree of late Romantic bluster there lies some fine music, especially in the finale’s quieter, more introspective moments. Almond and Wolfram clearly believe in the piece, give it its head and make the best possible case for it. The Janáček strikes one as rather less successful on two counts. Although this duo make an unfailingly beautiful sound they could make more of the composer’s abrupt discontinuities and switches of mood; and the slightly too reverberant recording blunts the music’s volatile edge, especially in the last two movements.

With the Strauss, which could be argued as the disc’s main work, we are fully back on track. With opulent sound from Almond’s Stradivarius, this receives a performance of soaring lyricism, Wolfram very much more than ‘just’ an accompanist, and here the recording works in the music’s favour (by contrast, Sarah Chang and Wolfgang Sawallisch, on EMI, are given a much closer acoustic). From Almond and Wolfram there is a youthful dash and exuberance which chimes perfectly with the music’s character.

Strongly recommended, then, both for the quality of the playing and for the imaginative choice of programme.

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