Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in F; No. 2 in G; No. 3 in c
Alexandra Soumm (vn); David Kadouch (pn)
CLAVES 50-1002 (67:47)
In reviewing Alexandra Soumm’s performances of Bruch’s and Paganini’s first concertos (her debut with Georg Mark and the Rheinland-Pfalz German State Philharmonic on Claves 2808,
32:1), I suggested that, besides its technical and tonal command, her playing suggested an emerging individuality. Her recording of Grieg’s three
sonatas with her contemporary David Kadouch certainly suggests a strong personality, although it may not settle the question about an emerging individuality. The engineers have done little to suppress the reverberation of the Jesus-Christus Kirche in Berlin, where the duo recorded the recital on February 1–4, 2010. But that reverberation never interferes with clarity and creates for the recital the ambiance of a live event. Etienne Barilier makes the case in his booklet notes for the three sonatas being essentially similar, and Soumm’s reading of the First Sonata’s first movement alternates lyricism and drama in about the same proportions in which those qualities may be found in the Third Sonata. The duo revels in the drama of that contrast in all three movements, with Kadouch especially stormy in the finale—which, in their version, achieves a strong peroration in its final page.
Soumm begins the first movement of the Second Sonata with a similar contrast between a stentorian recitative-like opening and an especially tender, reflective interlude before the appearance of the movement proper’s own two contrasting themes. Throughout the movement—and throughout the program in general—Soumm displays the breadth of her dynamic range, capable of spanning from the subtlest suggestion to the most commanding declamation. As in the Third Sonata, the Second’s slow movement sandwiches a contrasting middle section, although this one’s more passionate than playful. Kadouch creates in the finale’s lyrical theme a sense of longing that Soumm doesn’t—or can’t—match. Throughout, however, Soumm produces a warm tone, rich in the lower registers and pure in the higher ones, yet the beauty of her tone never steps to the fore without being escorted by heart and mind in her reading of the second—or any other—movement; these readings all depend for their success, rather, on the variety and urgency of her musical rhetoric.
Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninoff made a legendary recording of the Third Sonata, and if that weren’t enough, Heifetz also recorded it, as mentioned above (finally released a few years ago on RCA 09026-63907-2), as did Grumiaux and Elman. If Soumm’s reading of the first movement doesn’t project as much old-fashioned charm as Kreisler’s or generate as much electricity as Heifetz’s, it still storms with the irresistible force of a juggernaut to its climaxes in the first movement. The piano’s piquant accompanying syncopations can recreate the effect of so many palpitations, although they don’t seem to in Kadouch’s reading, but his arpeggios cascade with such building force as to borrow some of Rachmaninoff’s thunder. Rachmaninoff took some slight rhythmic liberties in the second movement that seemed so natural that when Kadouch—or anyone else, for that matter—plays the theme “straight,” it sounds wrong—or, at least, diluted. It’s hard for a violinist to project the theme so effectively in its first statement as Kreisler did, and some may not think Soumm has found an entirely satisfactory way to do so. The duo takes the succeeding sprightly episode very quickly, though their playing isn’t really elfin (should friendly trolls be dancing here?). And, taken at their rather sedate tempo, the finale’s main theme suggests more trees than forest, although Soumm smolders in the lyrical second, which they take at a tempo that might stretch some listeners’ attention on the rack. Nevertheless they build to climaxes, especially the second-to-last one before the coda, of nearly irresistible power.
Violin and Keyboard
, Abram Loft remarks somewhat deprecatingly on the extent to which Grieg relied on sequences to expand his thematic material (never mind the way in which Berlioz chugged up and down scales in the first movement of his
), and for all Soumm’s expressive advocacy, she may not distract a listener’s attention from what some might deem the works’ deficiencies. I’ve noted in earlier issues of
that Milstein and Francescatti never recorded any of these sonatas, while Kogan recorded all three, Heifetz recorded the Second (twice—but he refused to allow a studio recording of the Third to be issued), Oistrakh recorded the First and Second each once in the studio, while including the Second in a (late) live performance from 1972, while Elman recorded only the First and Third; Stern, Perlman, Mutter, and Kremer—to my knowledge—didn’t record them at all. I’m not sure I sense the haste that David K. Nelson discerned in Henning Kraggerud’s performance of all three sonatas with Helge Kjekshus (Naxos 8.553904,
21:2), although I think Soumm sounds generally more vibrant; vibrancy does seem a marked characteristic of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s readings of the three sonatas with Bella Davidovich (Orfeo 048 831), but especially in the most reflective moments a listener might wonder whether the players have filtered Grieg’s sensibilities too thoroughly through theirs. While it may take such a strong personality as the elder—or, as David K. Nelson contends, a Norwegian steeped in the culture like Arve Tellefsen—to make the most of these works, it seems that, if Soumm lacks their strong individualities or national absorption, she possesses a measure of their character. And Kadouch matches her strengths. Recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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