Notes and Editorial Reviews
No. 1 in F; No. 2 in c; No. 3 in A
Ilia Karol (vn); Norbert Zeilberger (fp); moderntimes_1800 (period instruments)
CHALLENGE 72196 (75:24)
Listeners to the rich sonorities of the period instruments played by Ilia Karol (an anonymous north Italian violin from about c. 1730) and Norbert Zeilberger (a 2006 fortepiano based on a South German “corpus” from c. 1815), both being members of the period-instrument ensemble moderntimes_
1800, might guess at once that the violin part, at least, lies generally low enough to be championed on either violin, viola, or cello. In fact, that turns out to be the case: Onslow identified the works as playable by any of the three, though Karol, one of moderntimes_ 1800’s founders, judged that the violin could achieve the greatest overall beauty of tone. Many listeners to the music may also find Onslow’s 1819 set of “sonatas” themselves somewhat schizophrenic (Viviane Niaux’s biography cited in the notes, bills him as
George Onslow, Gentleman Compositeur
), with a first movement in the Sonata in F Major that resembles Beethoven or Mozart, a slow movement as advanced harmonically, at least at the outset, as the Chopin to whom the notes refer, and a finale that returns to the earlier language in which most of the first movement has been couched.
The Second Duo begins with a boldly Romantic gesture (the first movement ends with appropriately stormy passagework) and adumbrates the period’s nascent expressivity in setting forth its thematic material. This Second Duo, unlike the other two, falls into four movements, with a tangy Menuetto Allegro following an ambitious and yearning Allegro almost 15 minutes long; it’s capped off by an Adagio cantabile that reverberates with faint echoes of the mood of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata, and a moody finale, it’s
perhaps suggested by its key. The Third Duo, in A Major, sounds not so much more brilliant as more strutting and more Beethovenian in its insistent manner. But chromatic tinges in the slow movement and the jaunty melodic twists and lighter harmonic turns of the finale mark its distance from this model, though it hardly lacks tempestuous Beethovenian moments.
Karol and Zeilberger play throughout with a sense of the music’s mercurial changes of direction. Onslow, independently wealthy, wrote to please himself, though according to the notes he didn’t have trouble in finding publishers. Karol’s violin sounds rich and reedy, with a brilliant upper register and a viola-like lower one; it’s paired effectively with Zeilberger’s bright, woody fortepiano; the recorded sound’s somewhat reverberant setting may take a bit of getting used to, but the instruments emerge with the kind of tonal opulence that would be apparent close up in a chamber setting.
The ensemble moderntimes_1800 offers music that should appeal to adventurous collectors, but Onslow’s unusual, highly personal blend of the old and the new should attract more general listeners as well. Recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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