Neglected Yet Worthwhile American Violin Sonatas

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

The New York-born composer and educator Rubin Goldmark (1872-1936) is best known for teaching two of America’s most influential and original composers, namely George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. His own compositional output generally falls in step with the late-Romantic Austro-German party line, such as the three-movement Violin Sonata in B minor published in 1900.

Brahms’ influence prevails throughout the work’s frequent use of cross-rhythms and phrase units that move all over the barlines. Traces of folk-like elements inform Goldmark’s melodic thinking, which may remind listeners of Smetana or Dvorák. Yet all three movements are beautifully crafted, packed with interesting ideas, and assuredly alive. Violinists seeking rarely heard yet engaging large-scale Romantic fare should investigate this work and download the score from IMSLP.

Ting-Lan Chen and Nathan Buckner understand Goldmark’s idiom, and are very much in sync, ensemble-wise. A few quibbles: sometimes Chen’s intonation wobbles on sustained notes, and the violin part would benefit from a wider scope of tonal shadings and inflections available to Chen.

The pioneering American composer Alexander Reinagle (1756-1809) is responsible for the most substantial piano works written by an American in the late 18th century, namely his four multi-movement “Philadelphia” sonatas, all delightful compositions in the Clementi/Haydn mode. Several pianists have recently recorded Sonata No. 1, while Sylvia Glickman’s excellent disc of all four on the Orion label is worth seeking out, although possibly hard to source.

It appears that Reinagle scored Sonata No. 4 to include a part for an accompanying instrument. According to Buckner, the part was either lost or never notated in the first place. Buckner’s hypothetical reconstruction of the part for violin neither adds to nor detracts from the piano’s dominance. Chen, in turn, knows exactly when to dominate and when to pull back. However, Buckner’s crisp and shapely fingerwork takes center stage, not to mention his sensitivity to the finale’s subtle harmonic surprises. Indeed, I hope this pianist will consider recording Reinagle’s first three sonatas. Self-recommending to music lovers who like to explore the chamber literature’s worthier neglected corners.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: American Violin Sonatas
Reference Recording: None for these works

  • Ting-Lan Chen (violin); Nathan Buckner (piano)

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