Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: No. 2 in e,
No. 1 in d,
Marco Rogliano (vn); Gianluca Luisi (pn)
NAXOS 8.572870 (58:05)
If the question were put to you, “Who do you suppose Ludwig Thuille’s teacher was?” you might first counter with a question of your own, “Who was Ludwig Thuille?” Fair enough. Ludwig Thuille (1861–1907) was
born in Bozen, then part of Austria, but today Bolzano, part of the Tyrol region in Italy. He is counted as an Austrian composer who, in 1877, met and forged a lifelong friendship with Richard Strauss, though as you can see from Thuille’s dates, long life wasn’t in the cards for him. If you took a stab at the first question and guessed that Thuille’s teacher was the composer-mill breeder of Munich, Josef Rheinberger, you’d be right. You might be surprised to learn, though, that Thuille in turn became teacher to Ernest Bloch, Walter Braunfels, Hermann Abendroth, Richard Wetz, and Paul von Klenau, among others.
Imslp.org is usually a fairly reliable source for listings of composers’ complete works, but in the case of Thuille, I can’t help but wonder how complete Imslp’s worklist is; for Thuille’s biography states that he was prolific, yet only 39 works with opus numbers and another 10 without are documented. Some of those 49 entries are not miniatures. Among them are three operas, a symphony, a piano concerto, two piano quintets, a cello sonata, an organ sonata, and the two violin sonatas on this disc. Most of the remaining items are solo piano pieces and songs. But the one work by which Thuille is best remembered today is his Sextet for Piano and Winds, op. 6, a piece that has enjoyed at least half-a-dozen recordings.
The reason I’m suspicious of Imslp’s listing is that in issue 34:1, I reviewed a two-disc set on Champs Hill containing a collection of the composer’s chamber works, and included was a Piano Trio in E?-Major, dating from 1885, which is absent from Imslp’s inventory. I also find listed on the Signum label a recording of two string quartets by Thuille (the second unfinished) performed by the Signum Quartet. No mention of any quartets shows up on Imslp’s list. So perhaps Thuille really was a bit more prolific than Imslp’s worklist would indicate.
I was close to saying that at present there appear to be no previous recordings of Thuille’s violin sonatas, but knowing that record companies usually trumpet their coups of first-ever recordings—and in this case, Naxos doesn’t—I figured that these works had found their way onto disc somewhere before. It was then that I happened upon a listing for a recording of one of these sonatas, the No. 2 in E Minor, performed by Christoph Schickendanz, violin, and Bernard Fograscher, piano, on a Telos CD. The paired work, however, is Hans Pfitzner’s Violin Sonata, op. 27. I can’t say that I found another listing for Thuille’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that one does, or at one time did, exist.
No matter, the task before me is to review the disc at hand. The sonatas are programmed in reverse chronological order, as is reflected in the above headnote, but let me deal with the earlier sonata first. The 19-year-old Thuille completed his D-Minor Sonata in 1880 and dedicated it to his teacher, Rheinberger. It’s unusual for such a young composer to have his first major opus picked up by a major publishing house, but the score was indeed published almost before the ink was dry by Munich’s Rob. Forberg Verlag, which later merged with G. Ricordi. Perhaps it’s not so surprising, though, when one learns that among Forberg’s regular contributors were Rheinberger and Richard Strauss. So it’s not a stretch to surmise that one or the other, or both, recommended Thuille to the publisher.
The sonata is a big, ambitious work in four movements lasting almost 25 minutes. It also shows the young Thuille to be thoroughly grounded in the formal procedures of sonata form and to have tight rein over his thematic material, which unfolds logically with minimal digression from the musical argument. What’s more difficult to describe is the actual content of the piece. Other than Rheinberger’s own Second Violin Sonata composed three years earlier in 1877—a work with which Thuille was surely familiar—I can think of no other violin sonatas from around this time that could have served as Thuille’s model. Brahms completed his G-Major Violin Sonata, op. 78, in 1879, but not a single note of Thuille’s opus bears even a remote resemblance to anything by Brahms.
No, after listening to my Thorofon recording of Rheinberger’s E-Minor Sonata performed by Hans Maile and Horst Gobel, and then again to Thuille’s D-Minor Sonata, I’m convinced that the Rheinberger served as Thuille’s template. Honesty compels me to say, however, that neither Thuille’s ear for melody was as finely tuned as his teacher’s, nor was his heart for romantic passion as fired, at least not in 1880.
There’s more of passion but no more melodic inspiration in Thuille’s Second Violin Sonata in E Minor, dating from 1904, almost 25 years later. Considering the composer’s short life, this is a fairly late work in which all traces of Rheinberger are left behind. Content-wise, this is an even more difficult work to describe. Its musical vocabulary is more modernistic than the earlier sonata, but its influences are hard to place. I wish I could say with some authority that Thuille had a late-in-life French encounter, because to my ear this music sounds vaguely Impressionistic and bears a strong resemblance to the style of writing one hears in violin sonatas by Gabriel Pierné, Ropartz, Roussel, d’Indy, and Widor. Unfortunately, Thuille’s biography—at least what I’ve read of it—doesn’t suggest a French connection, so I can only describe what this music sounds like to me, not how Thuille came to write it.
The single movement
is the last of Thuille’s works with an opus number, and it was completed in 1906, the year before his premature death. The music’s sunny disposition and rustic atmosphere lend the piece a certain salon-like charm, but it also sounds like it could have been planned for the last movement of another sonata.
In lesser hands, I’m not sure how much of an impact Thuille’s works for violin and piano would make, for first-rate masterpieces they’re not; but the playing of them by violinist Marco Rogliano and pianist Gianluca Luisi elevates them to something quite memorable. Rogliano’s 1790 Nicola Bergonzi violin—with modern setup, of course—is a real beauty from which the violinist draws a clean, bright, sweet tone across the instrument’s range, never once tested by the music’s technical challenges, and never once straying off pitch or producing a hardened tone or abrasive sound. Rogliano has accumulated a fairly impressive discography, much of it devoted to little known Italian composers, though he has also recorded works by Beethoven, Berwald, and Sinding, as well as works by well-known Italians such as Paganini, Tartini, and Vivaldi. To this list, he now adds Ludwig Thuille. Who knows? Perhaps with musicianship of this caliber Thuille may actually catch on. But even if not, the composer is posthumously blessed to have artists like Rogliano and Luisi championing his work.
Rogliano, too, is blessed to have as his partner in this enterprise pianist Gianluca Luisi. I’ve not personally had the opportunity to review any of his previous CDs, but several colleagues have—he was interviewed by Lynn René Bayley in 34:1—and his
received high praise from her and from Scott Noriega. Interestingly, this is not Luisi’s first venture into the music of Thuille. On another Naxos album (8.570790), he can be heard in Thuille’s B?-Major Sextet and E?-Major Piano Quintet, also reviewed in these pages.
Thuille’s output in general may not be the work of a truly inspired composer, and his violin sonatas in particular may not be the most inspiring examples of their genre, but they do nonetheless expand the repertoire of the violin-piano duo between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, which makes them a must for completists, and in performances as fine as these, a must for anyone who appreciates violin and piano playing at its best.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Allegro giusto, Op. 39 by Ludwig Thuille
Marco Rogliano (Violin),
Gianluca Luisi (Piano)
Written: 1904-1905; Austria
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