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George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Complete Violin Sonatas, HWV360-73, 379 [146:19]
Keyboard Sonatas, arr. Violin Sonatas, with violin part realized by Lionel Salter; K73, K77, K78, K81, K88, K89, K90, K91 [55:57]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Chanson Louis XIII and Pavane in the style of Couperin [4:26]
Julian Olevsky (violin)
Martin Ormandy (cello: Handel)
Fernando Valenti (harpsichord: Handel, Scarlatti)
Wolfgang Rose (piano: Kreisler)
rec. c. 1954-55
DOREMI DHR-8074-76 [3 CDs: 216 mins]

The sixth volume in Doremi’s exploration of the back catalogue of violinist Julian Olevsky alights on the mono Westminster LPs he made of sonatas by Handel and Scarlatti in the mid-50s.

For the Handel works, which occupy two the three CDs, he was joined by the busy harpsichordist Fernando Valenti (not very audible) and the too-audible but agile cellist Martin Ormandy, Eugene’s younger brother, a famously long-serving player in the New York Philharmonic. The balance problems are inherent so it’s as well to concentrate on the set’s virtues, which are almost all about Olevsky. A couple of years earlier Campoli and George Malcolm recorded their version, subsequently reissued first by Testament and much more recently by Eloquence; their vivid performances, with Campoli’s burnished romanticist instincts meeting Malcolm’s wide-ranging harpsichord sonorities make a fine aesthetic foil for the Olevsky version of Op.1. The great beauty of the Westminster set lies in Olvesky’s focused tone allied to his instincts for phrasal highlighting without sounding in any way point-making or stylistically inelegant. He brings a warming grace to slow movements but without gestural musicianship. His echo effects in answering phrases, when called for, are well judged, his fast movements are lively and dramatic and never gabbled. This is exciting, sympathetic, beautifully expressive violin playing. Clunky elements usually come from the continuo; some of Ormandy’s pizzicati for example sound too guitar-like for ease, and instances of him being louder than Valenti are frequent – which says a lot about the problems between violin and harpsichord too. Nevertheless, violin specialists, at whom this three-CD set is focused, will want to persist for Olevsky, and for the opportunity of adding these performances to the Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi and Concerto sets already thus far issued. Of them, I would urgently recommend Olevsky’s wonderfully stylish Kreisler album; a real joy.

The final disc is devoted to Scarlatti Violin Sonatas. Violin Sonatas? Not really. These eight sonatas are in fact keyboard works with the violin part realized by Lionel Salter. There is no call for a cello continuo here and now, without a distracting string voice, Westminster’s engineers seem suddenly to have discovered how to balance instruments again. Once more what one hears is an illustration of phrasal grace, of lively dramatic effects and exciting vibrancy. Salter’s works beguile for as long as Olevsky is playing. As an envoi there is a delectable realisation of Kreisler’s Chanson Louis XIII and Pavane in the style of Couperin with pianist Wolfgang Rose.

Westminster LPs were not always the most seductive sounding affairs, but the honest transfers ensure that Olevsky take centre-stage, a place he so richly deserves.

Jonathan Woolf

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