Elgar: Violin Sonata

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COMPOSERS: Elgar and Sibelius,Grieg
LABELS: Challenge
WORKS: Elgar: Violin Sonata; Sospiri; Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 1 in F, Op. 8; Sibelius: Humoresques, Op. 87/2 & Op. 89 Nos 2 & 4
PERFORMER: Isabelle van Keulen (violin), Ronald Brautigam (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72171

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All three composers are celebrating anniversaries this year, which is the only link I can think of behind this CD. The most substantial work is undoubtedly the Elgar Sonata. Considering its quality, it is surprising how rarely it is given in the concert hall though it is reasonably well represented on record, Lorraine McAslan (Resonance) and Nigel Kennedy (Chandos) being among the stronger versions. Along with the Cello Concerto, the Piano Quintet and the String Quartet, it belongs to his last creative period; all were composed at Brinkwells during 1918-19. The Sonata is a work of striking power and eloquence and not the least of these four great pieces. Isabelle van Keulen and Ronald Brautigam are artists of keen insight, immaculate musicianship and culture, and they penetrate to its very core. Moreover they are accorded first-rate sound, well balanced and very lifelike. I have played this a number of times with increasing satisfaction. It is a strong first recommendation which is likely to remain unsurpassed.

The Grieg comes between the E minor Sonata and the Piano Concerto. One of his contemporaries thought it unduly influenced by Gade, ‘which may be beneficial with respect to form but injurious when it comes to content’. But to present-day ears it has the perennial freshness and immediacy of all Grieg and sounds fresher than ever in the hands of this masterly partnership. The six Sibelius wartime Humoresques are captivating and the three they give us are beautifully played.

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Robert Layton