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Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, January 2013

This music can be as cerebral as its German and French equivalents but it also has great passion and suffering. Schnittke is as compelling a way into this music as any of his contemporaries.

The musicians are from the faculty of Vanderbilt University…They are really good, as is the recording. This is the best recording of a violin I’ve heard in a l-o-n-g time. This whole project is the kind of thing that Naxos does best: seek out truly fine but less well known musicians, give them interesting music to perform, and then record the hell out of them. © 2013 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Art Lange
Fanfare, March 2012

violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait make such a convincing argument for each of these distinctive works. They handle the variety and contrasts of Schnittke’s polystylistic perspective with sensitivity and security, and adapt their impressive tonal resources to every demand the composer makes… © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, November 2011

…fascinating program…The performers…give this stylistically varied program skillful advocacy.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

John Pitcher
Art Now Nashville, August 2011

Huebl and Wait give a performance that is thoughtful and intensely in the moment. Huebl sends searing violin notes soaring into the stratosphere in the first movement, and she probes every dark emotional corner in the Adagio. The duo plays the finale with the spontaneity of an improvisation.

Mark Sealey
MusicWeb International, August 2011

Schnittke’s intensity, focus and inward-directed heat are ideally suited to chamber music. Concentration, minimal consonance, the timbres of individual instruments together with their textures when sounded harmonically create a fertile world. There the wry and self-confident Russian melodies that Schnittke introduces, almost behind your back, can grow, strengthen and affect you.

Carolyn Huebl and Mark Wait, both from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, here present all three of the composer’s numbered sonatas for violin and piano along with the earliest one from 1955. They have the characteristics of great reflection, tightness, economy, though of a restrained and bare lyricism; of variety and a mix of moods from the sombre to the almost jaunty and jazzily lighthearted (the fourth movement of No. 1 [tr.4], for example). Indeed, together with the pair’s extreme technical yet unobtrusive virtuosity, this faculty of being at home in all Schnittke’s many idioms is one of this excellent CD’s strongest points.

Equally remarkable is the extent to which Huebl throws herself into the essence of Schnittke’s string writing. Almost all of his violin sonata writing was directly inspired by the work—and hence the style—of Mark Lubotsky and Gidon Kremer with their acerbic and understated tautness. To Wait’s unretiring yet sensitive pianism, Huebl brings an equally demonstrative certainty. She never over-layers Schnittke’s sonorities; they are designed to be as spare in sound as his themes are meant to prick rather than caress.

The Sonata No. 1 dates from 1963; it was in the following year that Lubotsky gave the première. It makes use of serial techniques and is generally springily experimental. Significant among its characteristics—and equally well brought out by these two fine soloists—is the relationship between piano and violin: prompting, antagonising, supporting, echoing and so on. Huebl and Wait explore these seamlessly and add to the momentum of the sonata greatly by respecting Schnittke’s conception of the duality of these two instruments.

Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 Quasi una Sonata was written just five years later, in 1968. The longest single work on the CD at nearly 23 minutes, it’s one of the composer’s best well-known and most often performed pieces with much more angularity—anger even—than the others here. Yet, again, Huebl and Wait have rightly preferred to accentuate the music’s essence over its surface. There are the glissandi, mordent harmonics and wistful rhythmic ambiguities—all characteristic of Schnittke. We also hear the gestures that may or may not be quotations—they’re certainly evocative—and the dissonant intervals and repetitive chords—famously those for piano toward the end of the piece. The players here are full of life, not labour: very pleasing performances. They evoke the emotion, they don’t ‘demonstrate’ it.

Lubotsky’s and Schnittke’s collaboration was renewed with the Third Sonata, which dates from thirty years later. It’s more spare and darker still. The two players here also capture Schnittke’s austerity though again without overplaying it. Schnittke—paradoxically—more implies than exposes such sparseness with regard to thematic development and instrumental sound. In keeping with what we know of Schnittke’s health at this time—his two strokes in the 1980s were of major concern—there is little real joy or exuberance for all the music’s insistence and confidence. Both Huebl and Wait, though the former in particular, have an expert and effective tread when conveying something balanced finely between resignation and regret. This can be heard in the halting fourth movement, for example [tr. 9]. This is tellingly marked as senza tempo, which literally means that there is no tempo marking; but also suggests time running out.

The Sonata 1955 for Violin and Piano also lasts just under 15 minutes but is from a different world, written forty years earlier. In places it could be by one of the English pastororalists of that generation. There is even a passage sounding like a Scottish jig near the start. The challenge for Huebl and Wait was not to treat it as an immature or incomplete piece. They succeed very well. Each aspect of musical interest—instrumental articulations, rhythmic particularities, cross-references—is given its due weight. This is Schnittke, but not the one we first think of; perhaps that’s why it’s placed at the end of the recital.

There is a handful of recordings of these four works individually. But none in the current catalogue which nicely groups all three as this one does. That alone makes it a good choice. The acoustic is clean and close. The notes with the booklet are illuminating. All in all a sympathetic, revealing and enduring set of performances that can only enhance Schnittke’s reputation. Don’t hesitate.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, July 2011

Of all the recognized Russian composers of the 20th century, Alfred Schnittke (d. 1998) often sounds the least Russian. He ordinarily avoids nationalist melodic, harmonic or rhythmic tendencies, preferring instead to carve out his own version of the expressive modernist international style in its later developments. This is especially true of his chamber music. Schnittke’s four sonatas for violin and piano were composed over most of his active career, the first stemming from 1955, the last, 1994. It turns out they all fit nicely on a single 70-minute CD. Violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait set out to do just that, and they have succeeded in giving us thoroughgoing, expressive and exacting performances of same on a new Naxos release (8.570978).

Other than the first (unnumbered) sonata from 1955, these are certainly on the surface of things firmly in a modernist tradition. They nevertheless bear the individual Schnittke watermark: often utilizing twelve-tone-serial-and-beyond techniques but in a very personal way, freely bending them toward his own harmonic and rhythmically lively ends while culling and synthesizing the full spectrum of concert music styles from the Baroque to the present, all in ways that are distinctly Schnittkian in their strikingly inventive thematic idiosyncrasies.

The violin sonatas are excellently representative Schnittke. The 1955 work a fascinating look at his early beginnings, the first through third sonatas masterpieces of 20th century chamber arts. Ms Huebl and Mr Wait do an excellent job bringing out the nuances of these very complex and vital works. The sound is very good as well. It’s a treasure trove for an Schnittke enthusiast; it also serves as a good introduction to his music for anyone unfamiliar with it. At the Naxos price the disk is especially attractive!

Joshua Meggitt
Cyclic Defrost, June 2011

Alfred Schnittke is, in many ways, like a Russian Charles Ives, incorporating ‘samples’ from across, and beyond, the canon into his works, creating heterogeneous compositions rich with wit, allusion and humour, They’re also frequently filled with sadness and dread, as in his harrowing Piano Quintet written after the death of his mother.

Aspects of that work, as led by the piano and lead violin, feed into his violin sonatas, all of which, including the unpublished-in-Schnittke’s-lifetime Violin Sonata of 1954–5, are presented here. Echoes of this early work, defined by a mournful opening and subsequent economical dialogue between the instruments, returns in his final sonata. Written in his 60s after a number of strokes, Schnittke here is spare in his language, suggesting more than revealing, yet packing great emotion into such subtle gestures. Sonatas 1 and 2, from 1964 and 1968 respectively, are more active and dynamic, dipping occasionally into tonality only to disrupt it with jagged serial outbursts. This wonderful collection is an excellent entry point into Schnittke’s endlessly fascinating musical world.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2011

Alfred Schnittke’s three numbered violin sonatas span most of his career, somehow avoiding the Soviet censorship that befell such forward looking scores. Though he often blended many musical styles from the Baroque to the Contemporary era, the sonatas offer little as an olive-branch to those wedded to tonality. The First Sonata, from 1963, is in four movements opening with an acerbic and short Andante that leads to a spiky Allegretto with its contorted thematic material. After a short Largo comes a happy Allegretto scherzando. Having arrived in more listener-friendly territory, peace is broken by the aggressive Second Sonata from 1968. In one movement that is uncompromising in its modernity and owes everything to the Second Viennese School. It is a work where the piano is rather more important than the violin, and enjoys a central virtuoso solo. Sixteen years separate it from the Third where we move back to a four-movement format and a more mellowed approach to atonality. Unpublished in his lifetime comes the 1955 sonata when Schnittke was twenty-one. It would appear the sleeve note writer has yet to hear the work, and while it may be incomplete, the two movements make a satisfying whole that musically occupy a world of pleasing tonality utterly divorced from his numbered sonatas. The performers presently work at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in the United States. Big-toned Russian violinists—the numbered sonatas were inspired by Mark Lubotsky and Gidon Kremer—would dig deeper into their instruments, but Carolyn Huebl plays with admirable commitment, while Mark Wait’s piano lacks nothing in impact. Looking back I reviewed the numbered sonatas on the Stradivarius label. Nothing to choose between performances, but Naxos’s sound quality is preferred.

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