The Hidden Violin

Last week the classical label ‘First Hand Records’ released a disc of solo violin music which I recorded last year. The disc is entitled ‘The Hidden Violin’ and this refers to the choice of repertoire: of the 13 tracks only 3 had ever been recorded before. This might not sound too surprising and if the repertoire consisted of music written in the last 50 years, this would not have been particularly unusual. But the fact that the most recent work had been written in 1919 and the oldest in the 1840s means that the music contained on the disc most definitely fell into the category of ‘neglected’.

 So, is the music any good or does it deserve to have been allowed to collect dust and be forgotten? Well, I would alter its category to that of ‘neglected gems’ as all of the music rewards repeated listening. This is part of the reason why so much of the chamber music repertoire doesn’t see the light of day: it is just a little too challenging to fully grasp on the first listening, yet increased familiarity rewards the listener greatly.

 The two main works on the disc are the two solo violin sonatas by Benjamin Godard, the prolific 19th century French composer who wrote over 450 works before his untimely death at the age of 45. Much of his music is unfairly dismissed as ‘light music’, yet these works display a wonderfully fertile musical imagination and turn of phrase which charms the ear and carries the listener along in a sweep of inspiration. As Godard was also an exceptional violinist, they are very well written for the instrument and explore much in the way of technique, but always at the service of the music.

 The rest of the disc comprises works by Christian Sinding, Franz von Vecsey, Léon de Saint-Lubin and Joseph Joachim. All were either great violinists themselves, or in the case of Sinding, an accomplished player. The piece which explores the possibilities of the instrument the furthest is the ‘Fantasie sur un thême de Lucia Di Lammermoor’, a wonderful reworking of the celebrated sextet from that opera. To quote from the booklet notes, Saint-Lubin really does throw everything into his Fantasie, including such techniques as ‘…simultaneous left hand pizzicato and cantilena playing, ricochet interspersed with rapid arpeggios, double stopped tremolandos (with the melody punctuated on a higher string) and downward scales of triple stopping.’