P. Scharwenka – Violin Sonatas

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917)
Violin Sonata in B minor op. 110 (1900)
Violin Sonata in E minor op. 114 (1904)
Suite op. 99 (1896)

Natalia Prishepenko, violin
Oliver Triendl, piano

 (2016) – TT 65:50

Gloomy and Passionate Violin Sonatas Midway Between Brahms and Franck


In a nutshell:
• Philipp Scharwenka, brother of the more famous Xaver, writes in a cosmopolitan style drawing upon Brahms, Liszt, and Franck.
• If you enjoy serious chamber music in the late German Romantic dialect, the two dark and dramatic violin sonatas are recommended.
• Violin Sonata in B minor op. 110 (1900) is a masterpiece with lush chromatic harmony, passionate violin writing, and somber colors.
• Violin Sonata in E minor op. 114 (1904) exudes similar intensity and luxuriant harmony in a Brahms-meets-Franck idiom.
• Suite op. 99 (1896) is less interesting because of its lighter salon vestiture. Apart from the gripping and virtuosic “Toccata,” the other movements—a gentle “Ballade,” upbeat “Intermezzo,” and conventional “Tarantella” aren’t very inspired.
• Natalia Prishepenko (violin) exerts a beautiful tone and expressive force in her playing, while Oliver Triendl (piano) is among the greatest accompanists recording Romantic chamber repertoire today.
• Sound is close and surprisingly good for so obscure a label.

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) gets short shrift next to his more successful brother, Xaver. Anchored almost entirely in academia, Philipp held teaching positions at various conservatories; Otto Klemperer was the most famous of his students. His autumnal German Romanticism is an interesting divergence from his brother’s extroverted salon idiom. I’ve heard only one other recording of Philipp’s music: the piano trios. They are good if a bit uneven, but these works for violin and piano are decidedly better. In particular, the two violin sonatas have full-blooded power and a dark lyrical beauty to them.

From what little I’ve heard from Scharwenka’s pen, I can tell the Violin Sonata in B minor op. 110 (1900) is a masterwork in his output. Lush harmony, passionate violin lines, and a thick piano accompaniment are constants in this meaty composition. The opening “Allegro” is shot through with intensity and the thematic material is imposing: a 1st theme peppered with tritones and unstable tremolos, followed by a magisterial 2nd theme of profound lyricism. In the “Largamente,” somber moods still prevail but in a sparser texture. An extremely chromatic piano part is set against a pitiful almost pouting violin line. Only in the finale do rays of sunshine break through. The ebullient trilling violin and high-register piano filigree leave the darkness of the prior movements a distant memory.

The Violin Sonata in E minor op. 114 (1904) is cut from the same cloth. Intense emotions, luxuriant harmony, and yearning passion characterize the first movement, which has all the late Romantic beauty of Franck. Likewise, the ensuing “Andante tranquillo” is deeply expressive through its melancholy and piquant chromaticism. While the finale lacks memorable melodies, its animated rhythms and stormy violin writing keep things interesting.

Less compelling on this program is the Suite op. 99 (1896), an antithesis of the two violin sonatas and garbed in salon vestiture. Still, the suite makes a strong first impression in the invigorated “Toccata.” Scharwenka wisely balances piano and violin, giving both parts exciting ideas: the violin is charged with double stops and intricate patter, while the piano punches through the soundscape with thick repeated chords and a constant flow of arpeggios. I don’t think the other movements have much inspiration, though. The “Ballade” is a gentle romance, the “Intermezzo” a peppy staccato-laden miniature, and the “Recitativ und Tarantella” a showpiece for the violin.

Performances are exemplary. Violinist Natalia Prishepenko gives a high caliber debut recording, showcasing these pieces with aplomb and assured technical ease. She is supported by Oliver Triendl, a treasured accompanist and one of the best currently recording Romantic repertoire.


Scharwenka – Works & Recordings

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