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Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
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Seen & Heard
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Jonathan Woolf
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   Len Mullenger

Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Siete Canciones populares Espańolas (1914-15) arr. Paul Kochanski [12:16]
Danse Espagnole from La Vida Breve (1913) arr. Fritz Kreisler [3:31]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pičce en forme de Habanera (1907-08) [2:56]
Tzigane (1924) [9:29]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Tango, Op.165 No.2 arr. Fritz Kreisler [2:15]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Violin Sonata Op.119 (1942-43 rev 1949) [17:33]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Romanian Folk Dances, Sz56 (1915) arr. Zoltán Székeley [5:16]
Emil Altschuler (violin)
Keunyoung Sun (piano)
rec. 2014, The Bridge Sound and Stage, Cambridge, MA
Private recording [53:10]

Emil Altschuler attended Juilliard and the Yale School of Music, and studied with Erick Friedman and Dorothy DeLay. He performs widely and maintains a busy teaching studio. His first CD was made with his brother, Josiah, who provided a gypsy Jazz backing, though I’ve yet to hear it. He plays on this latest release with all gut strings, which can be a tricky practice if tuning sags during the course of a recital.

He has constructed a largely Franco-Spanish programme with Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances as ‘bonus tracks’ – though as the disc lasts 53 minutes, it’s not an overly generous bonus. Falla’s Canciones populares espańolas are astutely played, not too overtly coloured. Playing on gut certainly helps to bring out the warm songful quality of Nana, but even the warmth of gut can’t override the scrunchy recording, which vests Polo with a rather acidic quality. The Ravel Pičce en forme de Habanera is nicely judged though there’s a brief ‘noises off’ moment at the end that could have been excised. Perhaps the Albéniz-Kreisler Tango doesn’t sway quite idiomatically enough and there’s less tonal body than is ideal but Falla’s Danse espagnole, again in the Kreisler arrangement, is fluently and sensitively dispatched. He seems to have real affinities with Falla.

It’s in the Poulenc Sonata, a welcome item in the recital, that the recording quality is at its least helpful. The acerbic sound, reminiscent of Parisian studios of the 1950s and 1960s, imparts an edgy tone to Altschuler’s playing, which can lack light and shade and tonal warmth. The piano’s spatially distant placing in the balance is also none too helpful, and sounds dry. The broad outline of the interpretation is nicely balanced but it’s in the detail that concerns arise. The opening lacks the intense paragraphal assurance of Louis Kaufman – with Henri Sauguet, no less, as pianist – or the more aristocratic refinement of Josef Suk with Jan Panenka, and there are one or two intonational slips. Good tempi – similar to Menuhin and Jacques Février - and largely fine technical resources, which include the good playing of the tragic lyricism of the finale, act as counterbalances.

The Bartók Dances are played with quite a thin tone – contrast the composer with Szigeti in their recording - and there’s studio noise at a high level, so that the impression left again is not unmixed. Throughout, Keunyoung Sun is a helpful colleague though he too is subject to recording limitations.

This unnumbered promotional disc came to me from the violinist, through whose website it can be obtained. For his next disc, I hope a more sympathetic recorded sound can be achieved that would serve to enhance the soloist’s very musical playing.

Jonathan Woolf