Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonata No. 1
Laurent Albrecht Breuninger (vn); Anna Zassimova (pn)
CPO 777-378 (66:21)
David Oistrakh recorded Georgi
with Vladimir Yampolsky for Melodiya 1951 on what Jacob Harnoy called a “long playing” 78-rpm 10-inch disc with grooves that Harnoy described as having the same width as regular LP microgrooves (a medium unique to the former Soviet Union). He recorded the two sonatas (in 1952 and 1948), however, with pianist Alexander Goldenweiser, whom Anna Zassimova, the pianist in cpo’s new recording and a researcher who has annotated and published the correspondence between Catoire and Tchaikovsky, has credited with helping to revive interest in the composer. These recordings, available on DOREMI 7720,
22:4, represent the composer’s complete original works for violin and piano, perhaps the first
of interest in Catoire. DOREMI’S collection (Oistrakh’s performances of the two sonatas also appear in Brilliant’s collection of the violinist’s chamber performances, Brilliant 8402) has been followed by another, on Avie 2143, featuring Herwig and Bernd Zack, 31:6. Laurent Breuninger and Anna Zassimova’s account of the pieces includes an adaptation of the
for viola and piano, in this case transcribed for violin.
Breuninger and Zassimova’s program opens with the almost 35-minute-long First Sonata, which Zassimova places at the turn of the 20th century and at the end of Catoire’s first compositional period. Beginning with a stormy first movement that may still reflect, as Zassimova suggests, Tchaikovsky’s influence, it may also recall for others Franck’s harmonic manner (and perhaps even a hint of Brahms’s writing for violin and piano—Zack remarked in his booklet that although Catoire studied with a great number of teachers, his unpleasant relationships with them made him in a sense almost self-taught, which may explain both the tendency Zassimova notes for him to stand outside the musical currents of his time and also how very many influences he seems to have assimilated to some degree.) Breuninger surely possesses the temperament—as, seemingly, does Zassimova—for this kind of barnstorming, but also for the more restrained statement at the beginning of the second movement (a
that also waxes ecstatic in its central section). The finale is more puckish at its outset, though it grows more intensely expressive as it progresses. Breuninger plays throughout with a slightly edgy but strongly commanding tone and a sympathetic warmth; in both, he’s matched by a Zassimova closely attuned to the effects buried in the writing for her instrument (especially in the melodic passages before the grand peroration of the sonata’s finale, in which Breuninger also displays an especial temperamental congeniality).
Zassimova dates the second work on the program, the one-movement, almost 23-minute-long
(Second Sonata) of 1906, from the beginning of Catoire’s second period and describes it as one of the finest Russian works for the two instruments. As directly communicative as the First Sonata despite its complex rhythms and harmonies, it seems discursive and rhapsodic, even though Breuninger and Zassimova trace its emotional, loosely structured content clearly, right to the quiet ending. The
(from 1916, according to Zassimova), both in its musical import and in its performance here, reaches in its few minutes’ duration the same heights to which the sonatas soared. Even the touching
, beginning more simply, grows similarly agitated, yet its more sensitive moments, in the manner (if surely not possessing the matter) of some of Grieg’s short pieces, seem as effective in their way as the more urgent ones do in theirs.
The recorded sound, generally well balanced, may slightly favor the violin, but it’s clean and detailed in its representation of the piano. Breuninger is more stridently abrasive than Zack, who, in turn, may seem at first to play with greater urgency than does Oistrakh. But the older master hardly sounds wanting in fervor, and the singing quality of his tone and his insinuating inflections make his recording stand apart, as it does, of course, as a historical document. While those seeking more modern recorded sound may therefore prefer one of the later, digital recordings, Oistrakh’s performances still set the standard in this repertoire. Still, Breuninger’s accounts can be recommended, although most strongly to those with the strongest interest in the recorded sound.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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