MusicWeb review: Rheinberger

Rheinberger: Complete Violin Sonatas

Since reviewing the set of his Organ Sonatas (PRCD 1165) I have listened to a lot of Josef Rheinberger’s music, mainly for piano and his chamber music. Let me get one thing straight, these Violin Sonatas are not, as stated in the booklet, receiving their ‘First recording’. They appeared on a Thorofon disc (CTH 2077) in 1993, although I do find Hans Maile’s violin tone on that recording is now showing its age and is a little thin at times. What is new and as far as I can tell is the three song transcriptions, which looking through the booklet notes of the Thorofon disc does not appear to have been included on any of their discs in their complete edition of the composer’s chamber music.

Despite primarily being known as a composer of keyboard music, seen as the equal as Mendelssohn by many for his organ compositions, he was infatuated during his student days with chamber music, composing many works for various instrumental combinations, including about a dozen works for string quartet and other examples of instrumental sonatas, sadly these were supressed by the composer and in some cases even destroyed. From those later works that were published during the composers lifetime it becomes clear just how accomplished a composer of chamber music Rheinberger was. There is some highly accomplished works in his recognized oeuvre, not least his two violin sonatas composed in the mid 1870’s.

Both the sonatas are cast in three movements, with the opening of the op. 77 Sonata being in the form of a dialogue between the violin and piano. This is highly romantic music, rich in contrasting music, with the expressive phrasing of the violin over the rippling arpeggios of the piano. The second movement begins with a beautiful melody on the violin before a more animated and rhythmic second theme is introduced. The final movement returns to the conversational element of the first movement, with short phrases from the violin being answered with contrasting piano sections, this movement bringing in to play the folk like elements of the Tarantella, but this is very much a Germanic ideal of the southern European folk style.

The Op. 105 Sonata begins with rippling piano whilst the violin is given a sumptuous melody that belies the movements time signature, Allegro non troppo, this is romantic music that many a more notable composer would have been proud to have composed. The second movement, the notes tell us, is noteworthy for its piano writing, its “oscillating sound fabric … underpin a dreamlike subject played by the violin.” This is a lovely calm melodic tune, quite meditative in tone, over the watery piano sound. The final movement is in complete contrast to the second, opening with the piano and violin playing in unison, before opening into a more energetic and exciting section that rounds off the Sonata well.

The three song transcriptions do not make up for the fact that this is a short disc, just over 45 minutes long, surely another instrumentalist could have been employed to record another sonata, the Op. 92 Cello Sonata for example, as this would have presented all the of Rheinberger’s string sonatas. That being said, these transcriptions are charming miniatures in which the violin carries off the vocal line really well.

This is a very welcome disc despite its brevity. Here Thomas Schrott’s violin tone is more secure than Hans Maile’s, and the quicker tempos here accentuate the contrasting sections more than on the Thorofon disc. The playing of Thomas Schrott and Piero Barbareschi is excellent throughout, something that is helped by a better recorded sound. The booklet notes are good, if a little brief, the final movement of the Op. 105 only.

(Stuart Silitoe, MusicWeb June 2018)


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