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Hyperion Records

CDA67220 - Walter & Goldmark: Violin Sonatas
CDA67220
Recording details: June 2000
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: October 2001
Total duration: 63 minutes 51 seconds

'These are sumptuously responsive performances, glowingly recorded and expertly annotated' (International Record Review)

'[Walter’s] sonata, tackled with relish by Graffin, from the turbulent first two movements to the resolution of the third. Goldmark’s suite is a delightful set of pieces (you will be smitten with the playful middle section). Full marks to Hyperion' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Fine, colourful and lyrical playing by Graffin, who contrasts effectively passages of serious intensity with moments of lighter character and repose' (The Strad)

'Philippe Graffin brings some Menuhin-like touches to his playing'(www.classicalsource.com)

Walter & Goldmark: Violin Sonatas
Andante serioso  [13'08]
Moderato  [9'18]
Allegro  [4'54]
Allegro molto  [8'16]

One hearing of this CD is enough to convince the listener that these works of exquisite beauty should be striding with the giants of Romantic violin works—Brahms, Elgar, Franck et al. It is astonishing how two such works could escape 'standard' repertoire recognition for over a century, and Philippe Graffin, together with pianist Pascal Devoyon, clearly relish the warm, passionate, singing melodic lines and harmonies permeating these pieces. Disinclined to favour one movement from the others, it has to be said that the Andante sostenuto from Goldmark's Suite is possibly one of the most heartrending slow movements ever written, played with such compelling beauty and conviction that this interpretation will prove to be the benchmark recording for many years to come.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Bruno Walter and Karl Goldmark have little in common other than their Jewish birth; from then on they led very different lives. Goldmark was born – on 18 May 1830 in Keszthely, Hungary, on the south-western tip of Lake Balaton – as one of twenty children (perhaps as many as twenty-three) born to the local cantor and lawyer Ruben Goldmark and his wife Maria. Only eleven of the children were then still surviving. Bruno Walter saw the light of day on 15 September 1879 in a comfortable, middle-class family in cosmopolitan Berlin. Goldmark struggled against the odds to establish himself as a composer and succeeded; Walter entered the Stern Conservatory in Berlin at the age of eight where he was pampered as ‘the little Mozart’ and abandoned composition in his twenties when his music didn’t live up to his own standards. Their paths did cross on 2 January 1908 when Walter presented the world premiere of Goldmark’s sixth, and last, opera Ein Wintermärchen, based on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. He had already conducted Goldmark’s first opera Die Königin von Saba (‘The Queen of Sheba’) during his two-year term (1898-1900) as conductor of the opera in Riga.

In 1834 Goldmark’s family, which had its origins in western Galicia, moved to Deutsch-Kreuz, some seventy kilometres due south of Vienna and right up against the current Hungarian border. Although the Goldmark children were familiar with the music of the synagogue, their sheer number combined with their father’s modest means to rule out systematic musical instruction; it was only in 1841 that Károly (he adopted the German form of his name in his teens) was first taught the rudiments of music, in the form of violin lessons from a singer in a local choir. But his talent was immediately obvious, and the next year he travelled to the nearest large town, Ödenburg (today Sopron, in Hungary) to attend the school of music there. His progress was rapid and so, in 1844, his father packed him off to join his elder brother Josef in Vienna. There he studied for a year-and-a-half – until he ran out of money – with Leopold Jansa (1795-1875) who had taken over the position of first violin in Ignaz Schuppanzigh’s quartet after the death of its founder. Nothing daunted by his poverty, Goldmark taught himself what he required to enter the Vienna Technical School and, thereafter, the Conservatoire where he studied violin with Joseph Böhm (1795-1876). That put him in direct descent from no lesser a violinist than Arcangelo Corelli, in an impressive teacher-student genealogy: Corelli – Somis – Pugnani – Viotti – Rode – Böhm. Among Böhm’s other well-known students were Joseph Joachim, Heinrich Erst, Leopold Auer, Georg Hellmesberger and Adolphe Pollitzer (who, in London in 1877, became the violin teacher of one Edward Elgar). With the wave of revolutions that wracked Europe in 1848, the Conservatoire was closed and Goldmark returned home to Deutsch-Kreuz – wisely: with his brother Josef, he seems to have been involved in revolutionary activities (or at the very least, he was mistaken for someone else who was) and was nearly shot. He now earned a living by playing in the theatre orchestra in Ödenburg, also making his first solo appearances there and in Buda. In 1851 he was back in Vienna, playing at the Josephstadt Theatre and the Carlstheater, all the while composing and working away at improving his technique.

Goldmark first presented himself to the Viennese public as a composer in 1858 with a concert of chamber music and songs, but the reaction was tepid and he withdrew to Pest to eke out a living as a teacher while he continued his autodidactic mission with musical textbooks and exhaustive study of the works of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. A second concert in Vienna a year later had a warmer reception, encouraging a move back there, this time for good. The premiere of Die Königin von Saba at the Vienna Court Opera in 1875 set the seal on his reputation. It enjoyed considerable international success; indeed, it was the first German opera, apart from Wagner, to be performed in Italy. His status was assured (despite occasional anti-Semitic jibes – even a short book written in his honour by Otto Keller in 1902 refers to Goldmark’s family slightingly as ‘israelitisch’). He was a friend of Brahms and Johann Strauss, an esteemed teacher (Sibelius was, briefly, one of his students) and he lived out his days in Vienna as one of the most respected figures in the musical life of the city, and of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in general. He died in Vienna on 2 January 1915.

It might seem strange that Goldmark wrote so little for his own instrument, the violin, if it were not for the relative brevity of his work list. His best-known score is his Concerto in A minor, Op 28, published in 1877 and latterly a favourite of Heifetz and Milstein. On a smaller scale, there are two suites, No 1 in D major, Op 11 (published in Mainz in 1869), and No 2 in E flat, Op 43 (Berlin, 1893); there are also a D major Sonata, Op 25, of 1874, published in Mainz the following year, and a Ballade in G and Romance in A, both appearing in Vienna in 1913. The Suite in D was plainly composed under a classicising impulse, perhaps responding to the archaising mood put about in Austro-German music by Adolf Jensen’s Deutsche Suite, Op 36, written at some point in the 1860s. The English scholar and composer Harold Truscott identified Jensen’s work – in effect, a Baroque French suite, despite the name – as having injected the spirit of the seventeenth century into the middle of the nineteenth. Jensen’s suite would have been a very recent memory when Goldmark sat down to write his; whether or not the influence is direct, the impress of the Baroque on Goldmark’s Op 11 is plain to hear: an Allegro overture (E major), a Bachian Andante sostenuto (in the relative minor, C sharp), a gentle Allegro ma non troppo (E major again) that replaces the minuet with the waltz, a wistful and rather more modern Allegro moderato quasi Allegretto (A major) and a buoyant finale, marked Allegro molto (E major), where the principal melodic idea is what the Germans call an Ohrwurm, an ear-worm: once heard, it’s not readily forgotten.

‘I am not a composer’, Bruno Walter writes emphatically in his autobiography, Theme and Variations (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1947, page 185). Indeed, apart from a fleeting reference to an unfinished operatic project, Agnes Bernauer (undertaken when he was sixteen), Walter lets almost two hundred pages of his memoirs slip by before he broaches the subject of his own music. No one seems yet to have attempted to catalogue the few compositions Walter did write. He eschews the task in Theme and Variations, as do both recent biographies, Michele Selvini’s Bruno Walter: La porta dell’eternità, 1876-1932 (privately published, Milan, 1999) and Bruno Walter: A World Elsewhere by Erik Ryding and Rebecca Pechersky (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2001).

It seems that Walter first put pen to music-paper at the age of nine, producing a duo for violin and piano as a birthday present for his father, and he continued to compose throughout his teens. The bulk of his early output consisted of songs, of which most are now lost, probably destroyed by their creator. Two sets of six songs each were published in 1901 or early 1902 as Opp 11 and 12, although at least two of the songs date from as early as 1890. (The opus numbering, of course, points to the existence of at least ten other scores.) In March 1893, while still a student at the Stern Conservatoire, he conducted his own setting of Goethe’s Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt for chorus and orchestra, and he seems to have set Hermann von Gilm’s Allerseelen in 1896. In 1903 he wrote a string quartet in D major, premiered by the Rosé Quartet in November of the same year. In the following May he conducted a Symphonic Fantasy inspired by Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (although he joked that its content was autobiographical enough to merit the title Bruno Walter) at the festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein in Frankfurt am Main. That summer he set to work on a piano quintet and played the piano part – he was an excellent pianist – with the Rosé Quartet in the premiere in February 1905 and, again with members of the Rosé Quartet, he give the first performance of his Piano Trio in January 1907. The next two works, both written in 1907, were on a larger scale altogether: a setting of Schiller’s Das Siegesfest for soloists, chorus and orchestra, and a First Symphony, in D minor, some 55 minutes in length – it was first performed in Grosser Musiksaal in Vienna on 6 February 1909, with the Konzertverein Orchestra conducted by the composer. The public loved it; the critics’ reactions were mixed. Six more songs, all Eichendorff settings, were published in 1910. In Theme and Variations Walter mentions a Second Symphony (in E, 1909/10) and Das Siegesfest but adds laconically (page 186) that ‘I no longer tried to have them performed. My doubts concerning my creative ability had become certainty. Only a piano-and-violin sonata, dedicated to Arnold Rosé, managed to outlive my renunciation for several years, probably because of its andante, for which I still have a certain fondness’.

That ‘piano-and-violin sonata’ – interesting that Walter should bill the piano first, as was conventional when the violin sonatas of both Beethoven and Brahms were published – was first performed on 9 March 1909. The style suggests that Walter may have been familiar not only with the Brahms violin sonatas (hardly surprisingly), but that he may already have come across the music of the then nine-year-old Wunderkind, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. He certainly knew Erich’s critic father, Julius, who had regularly dismissed Walter’s compositions in the Neue Freie Presse; and in 1908, according to Julius Sternberg, a fellow Viennese critic, Walter moved into a flat in the Theobaldgasse, downstairs from the Korngolds, where he could hear the young Erich indulging his imagination at the piano.

The expansive first movement of Walter’s Violin Sonata, marked Allegro con espressione begins in a confident A major but its complicated motivic development – based on a knocking shape that looks and sounds rather like a retrograde inversion of Beethoven’s ‘fate’ motif from the Fifth Symphony – soon begins to manifest considerable tonal instability as it modulates through C, A flat, F sharp minor, C sharp major, D minor, E flat major and F sharp minor, sometimes for only the briefest of moments, before eventually settling on A major. The Andante serioso second movement, which sets out in F sharp minor, threads the three-note tail of the knocking figure through an argument that shows only slightly more tonal stability than the first movement: G major, F sharp minor, B flat major, A major, D major, falling back into an uneasy F sharp minor. The Moderato finale sets out in A minor, which manages to withstand the efforts of a dropping figure to de-stabilise it and thus opens out into a passage marked calmo, in the relative major, C. But it doesn’t stay calmo for long, in mood or tonality, swinging through A flat major and E major before returning to A minor with the indication of Tempo primo. Warmer keys predominate for the rest of the movement – G major, E major, B major – until the music sinks into an E minor coda, which returns to A minor for its closing bars.

Martin Anderson © 2001

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