Respighi: Violin Sonatas; Five Pieces for Violin and Piano

Tanja Becker-Bender / Péter Nagy

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Respighi: Violin Sonatas; Five Pieces for Violin and Piano Review

by James Manheim

Chamber music by Ottorino Respighi sounds like an undesirably sparse enterprise, but in fact he wrote a good deal of it, mostly early in his career while he was experimenting with Austrian styles. Violinists of the middle 20th century sometimes played the works recorded here, but they're not a common find on concert programs. The most characteristically Respighian works are the Five Pieces (tracks 4-8), composed in 1906, colorful short works that seem to carry the kind of extramusical associations familiar from the composer's big Roman tone poems. The two violin sonatas are more influenced by Brahms and the chamber music of Richard Strauss and are less distinctive; the later Violin Sonata in B minor is quite elaborate and dark, and its challenging violin part receives a superior performance from German violinist Tanja Becker-Bender. The final Valse caressante and Serenata are from yet another set of Six Pieces that appeared between 1902 and 1905. They are pure tunefulness, the least complicated items on the program, and probably of interest to violinists looking for a little-known crowd-pleaser. There is nothing exactly groundbreaking here, and the sound from Berlin's Jesus-Christus-Kirche has an unpleasant gymnasium-like quality. But neither is the music, with the possible exception of the opening Violin Sonata in D major, ever really derivative of its Austrian models. Worthwhile for Respighi lovers and fans of late Romantic chamber music.

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