Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: in D,
Ursula Bagdasarjanz (vn); Gisela Schoeck (pn)
GALLO 1249, analog (50:04)
The second volume of Gallo’s four devoted to the recordings of Swiss violinist Ursula Bagdasarjanz is dedicated to the three violin sonatas of Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck (his Violin Concerto, along with
Glazunov’s, appears in Bagdasarjanz’s third volume, Gallo 1250). Bagdasarjanz originally recorded these works, according to the notes, four years after the composer’s death in 1957. (Those who acquire the CD should attempt to read those notes in French and German, as well as in English, as the versions don’t all present exactly the same information; for example, the German version updates the history of Schoeck’s
to include more recent performances in Basel and Dresden, as well as including a note by Bagdasarjanz on the dedication of the D-Major Sonata to Stefi Geyer, a violin student of Jenö Hubay, who also served as the inspiration of Bartók’s posthumous First Violin Concerto.) Schoeck’s daughter, Gisela, serves as Bagdasarjanz’s collaborator in the sonatas, bestowing on the performances the mantle of authenticity.
Schoeck’s Variations Sonata falls into three movements, the second consisting of the set of variations. The first movement, “Anmutig bewegt,” represents an ardent version of late Romanticism; Bagdasarjanz and the composer’s daughter play it with loving ardor. If Schoeck maintained close connections with the avant-garde, it isn’t apparent in accessible and ingratiating movements like this one. Schoeck and his interpreters transmute the second movement’s simple theme, in the first variation, into soaring cantabile accompanied by sprightly figures in the piano. The second variation further develops the poignancy of the first, suffusing it with an almost Brahmsian autumnal glow, which Bagdasarjanz effectively transmits. A brief, almost transitional, third variation leads to the last, which brings the movement to an introspective close. The duo carefully differentiates the often fine differences between these variations. They play the comparatively straightforward last movement, Schnelle Viertel, with great energy, and Bagdasarjanz brings the sonata to an exhilarating conclusion.
The D-Major Sonata sounds even richer harmonically and more dramatic than did the Variations Sonata; it features stormy dialogue between an even more assertive piano part than that in the First Sonata and an even more urgently communicative violin part (though it also pauses occasionally to accommodate moments of relaxed rumination). Bagdasarjanz’s tone remains pure and warm even in the highest registers, which this movement (as does the second) provides plenty of opportunity to explore. (The purity of Bagdasarjanz’s tone at these moments suggests that some of the edginess in her tone throughout may simply be an artifact of the recording process.) The second movement, more angular in its melodic design, gives the performers still greater scope for communication, opportunities they seize with gusto. Bagdasarjanz’s crisp articulation transforms the last movement into a heady romp, though it’s no mere accompanied solo, focusing, as it does, a great deal of attention on passages for solo piano. A former concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, Gerhard Taschner, recorded the sonata (with Edith Farnadi), which appears in a four-CD set issued by MDG (642 0985). The extra time he takes in the first movement (6:21 in contrast to Bagdasarjanz’s 5:46) may strike listeners as almost flouting Schoeck’s suggestion, “Nicht zu langsam,” though he doesn’t seem to have purchased additional expressivity for what he’s paid in relaxation. Both violinists play the more animated second movement stylishly and with great tonal purity, though Bagdasarjanz and Gisela Schoeck make much stronger declamatory statements in the middle section. They make an impression that’s similarly more visceral in the finale, though Taschner and Farnadi take a more sprightly tempo and play with elegant grace.
The E-Major Sonata’s first movement, less direct though hardly less appealing, leads the instruments along more tangled harmonic pathways, which wind and coil around territory that’s nevertheless still redolently Romantic. Bagdasarjanz’s majestic reedy tone on the G string underpins some of the movement’s most dramatic passages. The second movement introduces, after the more moderately paced first movement, an energetic Scherzo that surrounds its tonal centers more loosely and sounds more episodic melodically. The finale, more intensely electrifying in both wattage and voltage than its two predecessors, also wanders even further harmonically, without, nevertheless, entirely cutting its tonal moorings. The performers take control, and make sense, of its almost capricious changes in melodic direction.
All three sonatas, but perhaps most auspiciously the Variations Sonata and the Sonata in D Major, might profitably be taken up by violinists in search of broadly expressive, engaging works, unfamiliar, perhaps, but written in a uniquely personal though comfortably familiar style. Perhaps Bagdasarjanz’s and Schoeck’s enthusiastic performances will introduce the sonatas to those listeners as well as to more general ones, as well as to collectors. Unhesitatingly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, WoO 22 by Othmar Schoeck
Gisela Schoek (Piano),
Ursula Bagdasarjanz (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1905/1952; Switzerland
Notes: Composition written: Switzerland (1905).
Composition revised: Switzerland (1953).
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