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The Violin Sonata Around 1900 / Van Keulen, Brauigam

Release Date: 09/08/2009 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72307   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard StraussNino RotaOttorino Respighi
Performer:  Isabelle van KeulenRonald Brautigam
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Violin Sonata. ROTA Violin Sonata. RESPIGHI Violin Sonata Isabelle van Keulen (vn); Ronald Brautigam (pn) CHALLENGE 72307 (67:13)

Isabelle van Keulen recorded her recital of three turn-of-the-century Sonatas (subtitled “The Violin Sonata Around 1900”) with pianist Ronald Brautigam on March 25-27, 2008, at Galaxy Studios, Moll, Belgium. The engineers created an extremely Read more vivid ambiance for the two instruments, rich and live, yet without excessive reverberation, and close without invading the performers’ intimate space.

Van Keulen opens Strauss’s Sonata more straightforwardly than does Heifetz, for example, in his recording with Arpad Sandor, from 1934 (a reading that many may find more suave than his still white-hot performance of the Sonata in his recital with Brooks Smith from 1975, in “The Original Jacket Collection: Jascha Heifetz,” Sony 7217422, 32:3, and 2009’s Want List, 33:2—there’s an earlier one with Smith from 1954), not only melodically but tonally (though her timbral effects never suggest less full-blown timbral experiments), but as the movement proceeds, the partners’ rhetoric grows more and more direct. Van Keulen commands a wide tonal dynamic range on her 1734 Joseph Guarneri del Gesù, and Brautigam proves a sympathetic collaborator in recreating the first movement’s flamboyant flourishes. The duo’s ardor in the middle section of the second-movement Improvisation connects it in spirit to the first movement. They cut a wide swath in a finale (with its contrasts between the heroic and the hectic) that caps off this extroverted concerto-like Sonata with a strongly dramatic peroration. (In 23:3, I suggested that Gidon Kremer’s version with Oleg Maisenberg—Deutsche Grammophon 289 45 440—exhibited a wider range than did Heifetz’s, so Heifetz’s performance, though setting a standard, offers room for alternative views like Kremer’s and even, perhaps, like this one.)

The duo adjusts its approach to the melodic simplicity, sparer textures, streamlined harmonies, and less dramatic atmosphere of Nino Rota’s Sonata from 1936-37, playing its 6-odd minute first movement with what might be taken as an almost fey detachment. The second movement, a brief Largo sostenuto, rises to urgent declamation in its central section, but the finale speaks perhaps most ardently of the three, especially in the duo’s committed reading.

Heifetz set a high standard in Respighi’s late-Romantic Sonata—as he did in Strauss’s—that later violinists like Chung, Oliveira (Artek 0001, 23:2), Frank Almond (Avie 2113, 30:4), and now van Keulen, must aspire to. A different voltage and wattage, however, power van Keulen’s intensity in the first movement, so convoluted, at least in comparison with Rota’s corresponding section, and even in the finale, which she plays with authority. But I also remember hearing Kyung-Wha Chung’s recording (Deutsche Grammophon 427 617-2, 13:6) on the radio almost two decades ago, and not guessing the violinist’s identity until the end, being impressed by the suppleness of her tone and acuteness with which her musical intelligence found its way through the somewhat prolix last movement.

While it would be a disservice to dismiss such strong-minded playing as van Keulen’s and Brautigam’s in these works, some listeners, sensing continuously higher-than-standard temperature and pressure, might fear they could choke nuance. It may be that van Keulen doesn’t fully re-calibrate her timbral range in moving from one to another of these widely divergent Sonatas. In any case, the program offers an hour of high-level musical collaboration and tonally prepossessing violin playing, if also perhaps sound and fury too infrequently relieved by moments of respite. In all, recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano by Nino Rota
Performer:  Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Ronald Brautigam (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; Italy 
Length: 14 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor by Ottorino Respighi
Performer:  Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Ronald Brautigam (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; Rome, Italy 
Length: 25 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat major, Op. 18 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Ronald Brautigam (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Germany 

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