Nielsen Violin Sonatas

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Nielsen Violin Sonatas

  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2

Nielsen's violin sonatas here make their CD debut. There is a by no means negligible modern recording by Kim Sjogren and Anne Oland on LP (Danacord/Conifer DAC0221, 3/85) but so far as I can tell Mordkovitch and Benson are the first non-Scandinavians to put their interpretations on record since Emil Telmanyi (the composer's sonin-law) and Erling Bloch in the mid thirties (recently restored to the LP catalogue on DACO124/6, 3/85).
The First Sonata dates from 1895, shortly after the First Symphony, and basks securely in the warm A major which the later Sinfonia espansiva was to spend much of its time trying to recapture. Lydia Mordkovitch gives it the full romantic treatment, and it took me a couple of rehearings (with a slight reduction of volume level) to feel at ease with her big, gushing tone, vehement selfassertion and impulsive rubato. My conclusion was that the first movement can take it, especially if the dramatic sweep is as strongly-profiled as here but that the hymn-like andante and the piacevole e giovanile finale reveal more secrets when the approach is rather less public and highly glossed. Even so, there is some delightful interplay between the instruments and Chandos's recording stays just the right side of over-reverberant. The overall impression remains broadly convincing.
Reservations are stronger in the Second Sonata, an elusive work from 1912 with echoes of the previous year's Violin Concerto and glances ahead to the Inextinguishable Symphony and beyond to the slow movement of the Piano Suite. Con tiepidezza suggests to me something more searching for the first movement, especially in the contrasting lyrical themes—here Mordkovitch's unrelieved strength of projection and vibrato remove the structural perspective necessary to the desperation of the central agitato. Again, the slow movement would benefit from more reflective probing and less gestural reinforcement, and the piacevole (again!) finale is once more too yielding and overprojected.
Of course the luxury of comparison with somewhat obscure or even historic recordings is not one many collectors will enjoy, and there is actually much gain in the expansiveness of Mordkovitch and Benson's tempos, not to mention their superior technical competence. As an interim version of these two fine sonatas this new recording is most welcome. Looking at the 30 minutes of spare capacity on the CD and the 30 minutes of Nielsen's music for solo violin currently otherwise unavailable, it is difficult not to feel a twinge of regret. But that feeling is greatly outweighed by gratitude for the enterprise of all concerned in giving us full-blooded recordings of music which deserves to be far better known.'

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