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Richard STÖHR (1874-1967)
Violin Sonata No.1 in G major, Op.27 (1911) [28:51]
Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.62 (1923) [27:42]
Ulrike-Anima Mathé (violin)
Scott Faigen (piano)
rec. 2017, Clara-Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen bei Heidelberg

This is the third volume in Toccata’s series (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2) devoted to the music of Viennese-born Richard Stöhr (born Stern, he converted in his 20s), a composition student of Robert Fuchs. A prominent career in the city beckoned until the Anschluss whereupon he left for America where he continued to compose and teach. The list of his students seems to range from Marlene Dietrich to Herbert von Karajan and includes Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf and thousands more.

These two violin sonatas, which date from 1911 and 1923, confirm the impression already established that Stöhr is a composer of unquenchable lyricism who makes no attempt to embrace the zeitgeist. Though he was an exact contemporary of Schoenberg, no hint of such a progressive putsch can be heard or even any heady eroticism courtesy of, say, Zemlinsky. Instead there are strong hints of his teacher Fuchs, whose own music is thankfully being recorded more often, as well as echoes of Brahms. Appropriately for the scion of a Hungarian-Jewish family assimilated in the Imperial capital, Stöhr is very good at dance motifs, and they saturate his writing. Even so it is disconcerting, and a bit disappointing, to find the flowing terpsichorean opening of his First Sonata dissipate in a fugato stroll. That said, the hymnal slow movement is attractive and so is its contrasting country dance; all very civilised and nothing too resinous – certainly nothing Bartókian or Janáčekian to scare the guests. But if you like burnished Late-Romantic lyricism as well as fugal development (there’s more in the very slightly Russophile finale) you’ll enjoy the 1911 sonata.

Things hardly change in 1923 and the Second Sonata’s fresh, almost Grieg-like verdency is undiminished. There are times when Stöhr’s effusiveness just does become a little wearying – you want him to stamp his foot now and again – but there is a mellow quality to the writing that is undeniably both lyric and well-constructed. The fine pianist and booklet note writer Scott Faigen notes that the style of the violin writing ‘pre-dates’ Kreisler’s Viennese compositions – which is way off the mark. After the muted warmth of the slow movement, the finale is a laid-back Rondo with a decidedly odd structure and concludes a work that, for all its charm, doesn’t quite hang together.

Both Ulrike-Anima Mathé and Faigen play with dedication and communicative warmth. I find the recording quality just a little brittle and clangy from time to time and maybe that exacerbates a rather one-dimensional violin tone, which can turn strenuous in the higher positions. Otherwise these are fully committed performances of avowedly lyric chamber music.

Jonathan Woolf

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