Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fantasy in g. Violin Sonatas: No. 5; No. 6,
Gilles Colliard (vn); Timon Altwegg (pn)
GUILD 7371 (74:40)
Swiss composer Hans Huber (1852–1921) hasn’t been well represented in catalogs of recordings, and violinist Gilles Colliard and pianist Timon Altwegg have set out to remedy the situation, at least as regards the violin sonatas (of which Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes identify 11), in their collection of three (actually two as well as the earlier Fantasy in
G Minor). The Fantasy (Matthew-Walker points out several connections with Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto: the key and the designation of the first movement as a
) storms the heavens in its soaring first movement, perhaps in part due to Colliard’s ardor. The violinist draws a large, opulent tone, vividly captured by Guild’s engineers, from the 1665 Guarnerius violin upon which he plays (which member of the family doesn’t appear, but with the year given for its construction, it must be Andrea). The slow movement, equally affecting, allows Colliard to pull out all the stops in the impassioned middle section, in which, in fact, he seems to allow some rough tone production to affect the sonorous double-stopping. The Prestissimo drives forward with the almost demonic energy of Busoni’s later Second Violin Sonata’s Presto, which he couldn’t have known, or perhaps of the finale of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, which it resembles thematically, and which he could have known and or even played as a pianist. The Finale seems less heavily weighted emotionally; Colliard and Altwegg play it with the straightforward vigor it demands.
The Fifth Sonata’s opening movement (of three), written almost three decades later, sounds more reserved—or, perhaps, more mellow and Brahmsian both melodically and harmonically—and more serious, or even academic in the best sense of the term (Huber had just become director of the Basel Conservatory). The Presto agitato at the work’s center also sounds a bit like Brahms’s sonatas, though it maintains the composer’s individuality. The finale, like the first movement, a sort of Allegretto, returns to quieter, more reflective statement. Colliard and Altwegg seem to adapt easily and perhaps naturally to this subtler rhetoric.
The Sixth Sonata comes, according to Matthew-Walker’s notes, from a bit later in the same period as the Fifth, although it borrows from the composer’s Violin Concerto from 1885. Matthews-Walker points out its concerto-like elements (by which I assume he means boldly conceived and declamatory). The work, at nearly a half-hour, occupies a substantial part of the program, and in its violinistic scale resembles Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata from 1881–82. The first movement, at nearly a quarter-hour, by far the longest movement on the disc, represents a step beyond the Fifth Sonata toward a more angular, and even abstract, mode of expression, far removed from the direct youthful energy of the Fantasy. The second movement blends tender expression with leaping melody and occasional outbursts and settles into a relaxed conclusion, while the finale recalls the propulsive élan of the Fantasy but intersperses skittish interludes that heighten the movement’s drama (at least in this performance) in interjections similar to comic relief. The duo is sensitive to these histrionic contrasts, playing them off from each other effectively, though the movement’s overall atmosphere remains one of strenuous effort.
At times of heightened emotion, Colliard seems to allow the music to take him outside his violinistic self, and in those moments, he either tends to scoop or to play with a raw and even unrefined energy (all of which the recorded sound tends to transmit, and all of which may dismay some as much as it carries others along with him). Nonetheless, he manages, with Altwegg, to build a powerful case for Huber’s sonatas, which violinists and aficionados of the instrument’s repertoire should eagerly concede. Strongly recommended to them as a most welcome discovery, but to general listeners as well, who should be excited to share in it.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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