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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, December 2010

Even if you don’t think you’ve ever heard any of Felix Mendelssohn’s piano works he called Songs Without Words, the pieces in which he wrote down some musical ideas that he said could not be verbalized, you will undoubtedly still recognize a few of them from this selection. The first one, especially, the Allegretto grazioso, Op. 62, No. 6, better known as “Spring Song,” will put a smile on your face, because you’ll know it from a multitude of Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons.

What we have here is not just another collection of the usual piano compositions but the arrangements Friedrich Hermann (1828–1907) made of them for violin and piano. Not that the piano doesn’t work well alone, but the duets provide an extra measure of haunting pleasure in the pieces. Alex Strauss, violin, and Cord Garben, piano, play with sparkle and sensitivity, and they have varied the selections well enough to keep one interested from beginning to end; a most enjoyable experience.

Moreover, in this 2007 release the Naxos engineers captured the two performers admirably in an acoustic that is just close enough to be vivid, yet distant enough to impart a welcome bloom. Although the twenty-two selections on the disc have a total playing time of well over an hour, they are all so brief and so intimate, the time seems much shorter. (Not that that is a good thing; one comes away wishing there were more.) All told, it’s a sweet set.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, March 2008

Axel Strauss and Cord Garben bring to their performances a soft focus that doesn’t obscure detail—so much of it pianistic; and though Naxos’s engineers have presented the pieces as violin solos accompanied by the piano, they’ve represented both instruments clearly. …Recommended particularly to violinists and lovers of violin music, although to more general listeners as well. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Stephen Chin
Stringendo, December 2007

Late in life, Mendelssohn wrote a Song Without Words for cello and piano and unfortunately it was the only work of this type he wrote for strings. A generation later, Friederich Hermann, one of Mendelssohn’s students, arranged many of the Songs Without Words originally for piano for violin and piano. They work remarkably well, enhancing all the manifest lyricism and drama. Strauss’s playing is warm, refined urbane and sensitive to the many changes of moods between the songs. It would be a welcome addition to the violin repertoire if these out-of-print works were readily available. A delightful compilation.

Andrew Fraser
Limelight, July 2007

Axel Strauss is an excellent violinist who plays these with wit and verve and, when required, a plaintive restraint. Pianist Cord Garben accepts his moderate role with good grace. The recording, made in Germany in 1999, is of the highest standard while the sleeve naote are typically brief for the label, but well-written. This set may well be a curiosity, but it is exactly the repertoire with which a company like Naxos can excel. Moreover when the performance is as well played as this and comes at a budget price, it merits serious consideration.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2007
p >Friedrich Hermann was for a short time a composition student of Mendelssohn, though his lasting fame would be as a violin teacher and the editor of many works for use by students. Among his many arrangements was this group of twenty-two Songs without words, though the word 'arrangement' is misleading, Hermann leaving the music exactly as it was, and simply giving the melody to the violin with the remainder of the original piano piece as the accompaniment. I must confess the result sounds rather like Fritz Kreisler's pastiche pieces, the music amiable enough and well within the scope of reasonably proficient amateurs. There is really nothing to tax the German-born Axel Strauss, his tone warm, intonation never questionable, and the two musicians have balanced themselves to keep the melody nicely seated on top. The engineers have played their part by retaining that status. A disc in Naxos's 'Limited Edition' category that may best be obtained from your Internet provider.

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