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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata in B minor, P110 (1917) [26:09]
Albert DIETRICH (1829-1908)/Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)/Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
F-A-E Sonata [38:33]
Franco Gulli (violin)
Enrica Cavallo (piano)
rec. May 1986 (Respighi) and June 1990 (FAE Sonata), Dynamic Studio, Genoa
DYNAMIC CDS7693 [54:45]

These are not new recordings. The Respighi sonata was taped back in May 1986, and the FAE concoction followed four years later, in June 1990. Released separately with different couplings on CDS 39 and 67, they are now brought together under a new catalogue number and a series title, ‘The Masters of Violin, Volume 3’. The performers are the eminent duo of Franco Gulli and Enrica Cavallo but there would have been room for something else from the back catalogue to boost the timing and add ballast.

The Respighi Sonata has had a curious history on disc. The 1950 Heifetz recording seems to have had the effect simultaneously of stimulating curiosity but also frightening violinists. Sufficient distance had to elapse before its incendiary spirit lessened and violinists felt less inhibited. Players such as Josef Suk, who recorded it twice commercially, and Kyung Wha Chung with Zimerman scaled its heights in their different ways, and more recently there has been a positive outpouring of interest in the sonata – both Tasmin Little and Tanya Becker-Bender have recorded it of late. Gulli and Cavallo take an almost-exact Heifetz tempo for the first movement, drawing together its strands in a fluidly expressive reading that convinces throughout. Significantly slower than that model in the slow movement they are nevertheless well-calibrated and lyrically rich, though never guilty of excess emoting. The finale is purposeful and powerfully argued, its Passacaglia gauntness offset by Late-Romantic declamation. Suk, with Panenka especially but to extent later with Hála, aligned himself more directly with Heiftez’s perspective but Gulli and Cavallo very properly have their own perspective and it is a convincing one, sensitively conveyed.

Whether the composite FAE sonata is an appropriate disc-mate is a question that is perhaps best answered by the prospective purchaser, but Dynamic was limited by what Gulli had recorded for them and so thoughts of works by Pizzetti and Dallapicolla must remain unexplored. The FAE is not often recorded as a whole, more often Brahms’s Scherzo being the extracted movement heard in performance. Interestingly another performance of the whole sonata has recently landed on my doormat, given by the fine Czech chamber player Jana Vonášková-Nováková and pianist Irina Kondratenko on Supraphon SU 4170-2. The differences between the two are instructive. Vonášková-Nováková is slightly the quicker, certainly in the opening movement by Albert Dietrich but it’s more in relation to questions of phrasal nuance that sees Gulli and Cavallo score highly. Gulli’s tone colours are more vivid, his rubati more stylistically apt, and the playing somewhat more alluring all-round. The two Schumann movements tends to be more vivid in this recording too, where one finds a greater depth of characterisation, and in the Brahms Scherzo Gulli’s warmer tonal qualities make their mark.

Admirers of this duo can certainly invest with confidence, should they not already have these performances, and assuming – of course -that the pairing is of interest.

Jonathan Wool