Jeremy Lee writes
Busoni’s Violin Sonata No. 2 was hailed by Alfred Brendel as the greatest violin sonata ever written, though obviously this hasn’t stopped it from descending into obscurity as it has today. It does not deserve to: it’s a work full of fire and color as well as gorgeous melodies and real depth, and its older sibling the Violin Sonata No. 1 is no less enjoyable though not as distinguished. We can always count on Naxos for reintroducing these unjustly neglected gems back into the repertoire, and these performances surely make a good case for it.
As usual for Naxos the performers may not be particularly famous but their musicianship is never less than professional. In this case however using the word “professional” to describe Lin and Loeb’s artistry in these performances is to damn with faint praise. Joseph Lin, first violin of the Juilliard String Quartet, is the star here: his tone is gorgeously sweet, fluid and rich, and his impeccably judged vibrato and exquisite soft playing rivals the starriest soloists out there. Benjamin Loeb, a Texan conductor-pianist, bears a similarly rich tone and soft touch, and his accompaniments are always sensitive and musical.
Perhaps the only distinguished duo that recorded the Second was Kremer/Afanassiev on DG (the original coupling with the complete Brahms Violin Sonatas is unsurprisingly out of print now and has been reissued in an 8CD Kremer Collectors’ Edition). Kremer and Afanassiev dig much harder into the music and bringing out its wild and dramatic elements, especially in the Presto movement which is hair-raisingly jagged and violent under their hands (Afanassiev pounds on the final chords with bass-drum like power). By way of contrast Lin and Loeb’s more neutral artistry does not set the music on fire; through unfailingly musical phrasing and beauty of tone they let the music’s inherent poetry and delicate intricacy speak for itself. With the First sonata there are much less contenders; Lin and Loeb delivers an intense and intelligent performance, and Lin displays his powers of focus through his long-lined shaping of the unending melodies in the slow movement.
The filler, Four Bagatelles Op. 28 written for the seven-year-old Egon Petri, are four delicious dances in different styles: a Zopfstil melody, a Moorish dance, a Viennese waltz and a Cossacks ride are included. I would like all of you to listen to the marvellously charming Viennese waltz number: it’s so delightful I guarantee that one listen is never enough. In any event these technically simple pieces should be taken up more by amateur violinists, such are their accessibility, and the larger violin sonatas should similarly be given more attention by stars out there. Beautifully recorded, these splendid performances of three under-appreciated works deserves a place in any violin lover’s music library.
- Album name: Busoni: Violin Sonatas; Four Bagatelles
- Performers: Joseph Lin (violin); Benjamin Loeb (piano)
- Label: Naxos 8.557848
- Sonics: Stereo DDD
- Total playing time: 1:06:27