Reviews

GMCD 7326/27 – Violin Sonatas by Schaeuble, Hindemith, Reger, Furtwängler

Bettina Boller – Violin, Walter Prossnitz – Piano

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Musik & Theater 10-09

Grosser Atem

Violinsonaten von Schäuble, Re­ger, Hindemith und Furtwängler – es ist nicht allein ein geogra­fisch und chronologisch stimmiges Programm, das Bettina Boller und Walter Prossnitz hier vorlegen. The­matische Querverbindungen von Werk zu Werk, etwa bei Schäuble und Reger, sorgen für zusätzliche Kohärenz. Interessant sind die sti­listischen Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschiede der einzelnen Stücke. Als eigentliche Trouvaille entpuppt sich dabei die Sonate von Wil­helm Furtwängler, ein einstündiges Werk, das für sich allein eine CD füllt. Diese sinfonisch empfundene Komposition ist ein Lehrstück dafür, wie man einen grossen Atem führt und schlüssige Spannungsverläufe disponiert. Wunderschön, wie Furtwängler im vierten Satz die Inten­sität bis zur völligen Verausgabung der Interpreten steigert, um dann in der folgenden Episode die Zeit ge­wissermassen stillstehen zu lassen. Unangemessen wäre es, Furtwängler seinen oft rückwärts gewandten Stil vorzuwerfen. Gerade im vierten Satz entbehrt das 1937 urauf­geführte Werk nicht progressiver Züge; extreme Lagen lassen an die zeitgleiche Avantgarde denken. Ge­nerell fordert das Stück auf techni­schem und gestalterischem Gebiet besonders der Geige enorm viel ab – allerdings nicht so viel, um Bettina Boller in Verlegenheit zu bringen.
Stephan Thomas

International Record Review July / August 2009

This Programme, challenging for listeners and Performers alike, resembles a lengthy German banquet. (To be precise, Hans Schaeuble was Swiss, although his parents were German ) The Sonatas by Hindemith and Furtwängler both date from 1935 and are framed, chronologically, by Reger’s (1915 ) and Schaeuble’s (1946).
The most recent work is the first on the disc and it deserves more of an introduction. Schaeuble (1906-88) was bitten by the composing bug after hearing Ernest Ansermet conduct the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande on several occasions. He lived a life that attracted some controversy. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room to go into that here, but let the reader’s appetite be whetted by the disclosure that he composed an opera based on Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 immediately predates that opera. As with many of his early Works, Schaeuble revised it later in life. In his fine booklet notes, our own Robert Matthew-Walker points out that each of the four movements is Tonger than its predecessor and that the first, a short Introduction, contains melodic seeds that germinate and grow in the remaining three. Even in the Scherzando second movement, this is a restrained, melancholy work. It didn’t blow me out of the water, but it left me wanting to hear more from Schaeuble.
Hindemith’s little sonata is also neighbour to an opera – this time, Mathis der Maler. RM-W alludes to the first movement’s `gently rocking theme’ . One might even call it cowboy music – albeit for an angular horse! The longer second movement is sectional and almost encompasses an entire sonata within its seven-minute span. As in the first movement, its mood is predominantly wistful, even when its tempo picks up.
Reger’s sonata – his last of nine with piano accompaniment – dwarfs the preceding one, clocking in at just under 39 minutes. Reger creates more drama here, especially in the first movement, than he sometimes is given credit for. (This movement is even marked Con passione.) Across its four movements, the last an extended and often beguiling Andantino con variazioni, this sonata takes us on a journey not notable for its extremes but well planned out, subtle and both emotionally and structurally satisfactory. Although Reger’s music can be difficult to warm up to, this sonata is an exception. That brings us to Furtwängler’s First Violin Sonata – a work so lengthy (over 57 minutes   I, here) that it has the second CD to itself. (I don’t know a longer violin sonata than this one. Furtwängler’s Second is only about  j ten minutes shorter, however.) Its content is roughly Brahmsian, its scale symphonic, to; i the point of being Brucknerian. RM-W writes
that at one time Furtwängler considered orchestrating it. It is to the composer’s credit, however, that the sonata is a structural’, success, never outstaying its welcome just as it is. It does, though, require patience from the listener – to say nothing of how much it demands from the performers, I suppose!
Throughout this programme one feels well taken care of by Bettina Boller and Walter Prossnitz. Even in the sonatas by Reger and Furtwängler, they don’t lose sight of the wood for the trees. The first word that comes to mind is `intelligent’ . That is not to say that their playing lacks tonal or melodic allure, although Boller’s sound often comes across as wiry or edgy, and Prossnitz’s playing, while highly capable, is not particularly characterful here. This is nitpicking, though, and I’m glad to hear two such talented musicians playing this unusual repertory when they could have settled for Beethoven or Franck. The engineering is realistic and equally free from gimmickry.
Raymond S. Tuttle

MusicWeb International June 2009

Performances and recordings of twentieth-century violin sonatas of the late-Romantic Germanic school are rare birds indeed. One could be excused for thinking that the genre ended with Brahms’s three sonatas. Although not as well known the young Richard Strauss also wrote a violin sonata in 1887/88 around the time that Brahms was completing his third sonata. The four twentieth-century violin sonatas contained on this Guild release were composed in a thirty year period from the early years of the First World War to the end of the Second World War.
The first composer on this Guild release is Hans Schaeuble. Swiss-born to German parents Schaeuble studied in Leipzig and lived for some time in Berlin. His strong German affiliations meant that after the war he was described in some quarters as a Nazi and consequently his reputation suffered. There are only a handful of Schaeuble recordings in the catalogues and I cannot recall seeing any of his scores in any concert/recital programmes.
Schaeuble composed his first Violin Sonata, Op.7 in 1930/31. His Violin Sonata No.2, Op.31 was completed after the Second World War in 1947 and like its predecessor has dropped into obscurity. Cast in four movements Schaeuble’s score opens with a brief Introduction infused with an intense feeling of yearning. Any attempts to cultivate a more uplifting character to the music are thwarted by the menacing and overcast skies of the Scherzando. Dour and airless the writing in the Lento (quasi Fantasia) feels as if representative of dark, quasi-sacred images of a vengeful character. Marked Andante-Allegro-Andante the final movement is permeated by a languid and almost disconcerting melancholy. A central section Allegro offers more spirit and vigour whilst maintaining a certain reserve. On the evidence of this score I feel Schaeuble’s music is worthy of further investigation. I am enthusiastic to hear the recordings of the Concertino for Oboe and Strings, Op. 44; Symphony for Strings and Timpani, Op.27 ‘In memoriam’; Music for 2 Violins and Strings, Op.18 on the Gallo label CD 557.
A good place to start might be Schaeuble’s other recordings on the Guild label: Praeludium for Organ, from Op.15; String Quartet, Op.19; Concertino for Flute and String Orchestra, Op.47 and the Five Choruses a-cappella.
Born in Hanau, Germany Paul Hindemith was a significant and most  prolific composer. Hindemith developed a complicated relationship with the National Socialist authorities in Germany. In 1938 Hindemith who had a Jewish wife was forced to leave Germany for exile in Switzerland. It was in 1940 that Hindemith emigrated for a new life in the USA where he became an American citizen in 1946.
Hindemith’s Violin Sonata in E major was completed in 1935 a year after his celebrated Symphony: Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter). Cast in two movements the E major Sonata is a short work lasting just under eleven minutes. Marked Ruhig und Bewegt the opening movement remains restrained carrying a distinct feeling of tension. The second movement Langsam–Sehr lebhaft–Langsam–Wieder lebhaft contains writing of a serious vein that plumbs shadowy emotional depths. At 2:07 the mood switches with the Scherzando an energetic dance-like outburst. From 4:59-6:28 the underlying dark mood of the opening returns. The movement concludes on a positive note with a brief and lively Coda.
Bavarian-born in Brand, Max Reger made a swift rise to fame in Germany both as a musician and a composer. Reger is now regarded as one of a group of German composers working around the early 1990s whose music has largely been forgotten; overshadowed by the renowned composers Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg. Although composing for a relatively short span of some twenty-five years Reger produced a massive body of work.
Reger’s Violin Sonata in C minor, Op.139 is one of several that he wrote in the genre. The C minor Sonata was completed in 1915 a year after his renowned orchestral score the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart, Op.132. Marked Con passione the opening movement has an essentially unsettling mood switching from frenzied uncertainty to one of yearning infatuation. The subdued Largo inhabits a bleak and desolate sound-world followed by a Scherzo lyrical in character immersed in gaiety with a vein of mockery. The final movement is designed in a theme and variations plan. Bleak and rather unremarkable the theme seems initially unsuitable for inventive development. The set of nine variations that follow prove to be imaginative and appealing if of a generally wistful and introverted nature. Here there are only brief glimpses of vivacity and frivolity. I feel that the dour and uncompromising nature of the conclusion detracts from any popular appeal.
Wilhelm Furtwängler, a native of Berlin, is considered one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century. He also composed seriously throughout his life; in fact, he was working on his Symphony No. 3 at the time of his death in 1954.
Completed in 1935 Furtwängler’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor is a massive four movement score that lasts almost an hour. The lengthy opening movement marked Allegro moderato is stormy and unsettling music of considerable tension and anxiety. A substantial proportion of the violin writing is for the higher registers, especially in the opening pages. By contrast the movement dissolves towards a peaceful conclusion. Calm and meditative almost of a crepuscular disposition the Adagio solenne provides little to hold the attention. There are just two episodes of an increase of weight and tension. From 7:44 like in the opening movement the shadows lengthen and the music shifts quickly to a calm and soothing ending. The extended Moderato movement is ardent and serious contrasted with angst ridden writing of a wild and stormy nature. Characteristically Furtwängler provides a quiet ending to the movement. The opening of the final movement of the Sonata is marked by a strident theme for the violin. Although full of vitality the writing is generally more melodic than rhythmic but not in a tuneful sense. A change of mood at 15:28 to one of deathly stillness serves as a precursor to a rhythmically robust conclusion from 18:20.
Violinist Bettina Boller and pianist Walter Prossnitz allow you to hear the music without having their personalities taking centre-stage. With playing that feels spontaneous the duo have the ability to engage the listener in these frequently highly emotional and often tension-ridden musical journeys.
Splendid sound quality and an impressive essay add to the appeal of this issue. Those wishing to explore the lesser-known reaches of Germanic late-Romantic violin sonatas should not hesitate.
Michael Cookson