Karin Hendel

Hendel plays Andrée, Viardot, Boulanger, Farrenc

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Zuk Records is the German label run by Polish horn player Zbigniew Zuk, and the usual fare found on Zuk consists of Zuk's own horn playing. This is certainly not a bad thing, as Zuk is excellent and plumbs musical terrain for the horn that relatively few others have traversed. Elfrida Andrée, Pauline Viardot, Lili Boulanger, Louise Farrenc represents an attempt by Zuk to branch out into other streams, and this is an intriguing choice -- violinist Karin Hendel and pianist Ewa Warykiewicz in a recital of female composers, mostly from the nineteenth century. Products of male-dominated music conservatories will flinch and wince at the very mention of the words "nineteenth century female composers," as to them the phrase evokes the perfumed salon with its lace doily-covered piano, candelabras, and shallow music-making. None of the music here falls anywhere close to such a category.

Anyone who appreciates Brahms' violin sonatas will enjoy Louise Farrenc's noble and substantive Deuxième Sonate, Op. 39, and fanciers of Grieg will easily grasp Swedish composer Elfrida Andrée's airy, yet sturdy Tva Romancer. The "clincher" on this disc is the outstanding Deux Morceaux of short-lived but brilliant French composer Lili Boulanger, most often presented under separate cover, particularly as the "Nocturne," is a well-known encore piece frequently used by violinists. Here it is paired, as Boulanger intended, with its corresponding "Cartège." The Six Morceaux of Pauline Viardot are perhaps nearest to the salon genre of all the works heard here, but still it is not a very close comparison. These exuberant dance pieces put one in mind of Franck, Saint-Saëns, and Fauré and not the countless waltzes, polkas, and mazurkas turned out by the thousands by American publishers in the nineteenth century, most of which were written by male composers, thank you.

The recording, made in the Evangelische Kirche Niddatal-Bönstadt in southwestern Germany, is very bright and rather loud, though certainly clear. Karin Hendel's violin is assertive, cogent, and at times rather exciting, although she paints the music in rather broad strokes. One wonders how much of such a perceived lack of sensitivity owes to the emphatic presence of this recording, nevertheless it is nice to hear a recital that emphasizes the strong points of women composers of the past rather than a mere ghettoization of musicians who happen to belong to the "fairer sex."

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