Notes and Editorial Reviews
A VIOLIN’S LIFE: Music for the
Frank Almond (vn); William Wolfram (pn)
AVIE 2279 (67:37)
The Devil’s Trill.
Violin Sonata No. 2.
Violin Sonata No. 2 in d
Frank Almond pays tribute to the 1715 Lipi?ski Stradivari in a release that includes selections by composers who either owned it or had a connection to it. He’s provided a note on the privilege of playing on it, and violin maker John Dilworth has contributed the notes on the violin itself and on the program.
Almond and pianist William Wolfram begin with Tartini’s Sonata in G Minor, known by the title “The Devil’s Trill” because of a difficult double-stopped trill in the last movement (Fritz Kreisler’s ingenious cadenza for it came much later). Almond doesn’t play Tartini’s original double stops in the first movement (which he takes rather briskly) but does include some appropriate ornamentation in his sprightly reading of the second (and in the slow introduction to the third as well). He veils the devil’s trill itself with a sulfurous haze, more atmospheric than the suggestions of heavy breathing that accompany the movement; at the end he plays a shortened version of Kreisler’s cadenza. It’s a capable—even stirring—performance, but violin aficionados will perhaps be more intrigued by hearing it played on Tartini’s violin than charmed by this particular performance of it.
According to Dilworth’s account of the violin’s history, Julius Röntgen inherited the instrument from his father, Engelbert, concertmaster of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra. The composer’s Violin Sonata No. 2 allows Almond to explore the violin’s entire range in its three movements, soaring in the melodious
Allegro non troppo
into the instrument’s silvery upper registers but also thundering, along with Wolfram, in its climactic passages. The brief middle movement,
, serves as a sprightly transition to the more substantial Finale,
, to which the duo imparts a stormy urgency and which displays the reedy strength of the violin’s lower registers (as well as the piano’s own steely power, which the duo holds well in check—or, at least, in balance).
The inclusion of one of Karol Lipi?ski’s Three Caprices, op. 29/3, may be particularly appropriate because Lipi?ski, a follower of Paganini, also owned the instrument. Many may feel that Lipi?ski’s Caprices (for solo violin), short as those may be, outstay their welcome even in capable performances like Almond’s and represent the kind of gratuitous difficulties that Paganini’s own Caprices (or Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s, for that matter) transcend.
According to Dilworth’s note, Lipi?ski served as concertmaster of the Dresden orchestra while Schumann resided in Leipzig. Almond and Wolfram offer an urgent performance of the composer’s Second Sonata, although passages, in the first movement, at least in the violin part, sound more awkward than perhaps they need to. That sense of almost strenuous urgency continues into the second movement and beyond.
Several tributes like this one have been paid to great violins—well, almost like this one, for the program’s don’t focus on previous owners of the instrument (except in the case of Paganini, who owned the Cannon and made it famous). As in the case of Dynamic’s tribute to David Oistrakh’s violin, the Conte de Fontana Stradivari from 1702 (
The Violin of David Oistrakh
, Dynamic 389,
26:5), the recorded sound can be frustratingly insufficient. A similar difficulty seems to beset Avie’s release: If the violin’s the thing, then we should hear the violin in state-of-the-art recorded sound; and while Avie has hardly employed antiquated recording techniques, it’s to be presumed, the results make the violin seem a bit muffled and not particularly diamond-like in the middle. But, with Dilworth’s engaging notes (and Almond’s) and the generally stylish and affable performances, violin aficionados should still find it irresistible. Others may not share their enthusiasm. Recommended, therefore, to principally collectors of programs played on famous violins—not a small segment of the violin-loving population.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo in G minor, B g5 "Devil's Trill" by Giuseppe Tartini
Frank Almond (Violin),
William Wolfram (Piano)
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in D minor, Op. 121 by Robert Schumann
Written: 1851; Germany
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