Mayer: Violin Sonatas (CD review)

Aleksandra Maslovaric, violin; Anne-Lise Longuemare, piano. Feminae Records.

Several points attracted me to this album. First, I was unfamiliar with Serbian-born violinist Aleksandra Maslovaric and wanted to know more about her work. Second, I was unfamiliar with the nineteenth-century composer Emilie Mayer and wanted to know more her as well. Third, the three Mayer violin sonatas presented on the disc were previously unrecorded, and I wanted to hear what few listeners had ever heard before. So, here was a perfect and ultimately rewarding opportunity to find out a few things.

In a day and age when polite society expected women to be at home tending to the family, German composer Emilie Mayer (1812-1883) was out and about doing a man’s work, writing music. More important, she apparently went at with a passion, producing eight symphonies, fifteen concert overtures, and numerous chamber works and songs. Like her more-famous and influential contemporary, Clara Schumann, Ms. Mayer traveled throughout Europe performing and attending concerts of her music.

The Mayer sonatas presented on this disc are clearly in the Romantic vein--beautiful, flowing, and melodic--and Ms. Maslovaric, accompanied by Anne-Lise Longuemare on piano, perform them in an equally beautiful, flowing, melodic manner. The material may not be important or memorable enough to warrant more than an occasional listen, but those occasional visits will assuredly be enjoyable.

The disc begins with the Sonata in E minor, Op. 19 (1867), the longest and most-mature work on the program. Here, we get a lengthy and energetic opening Allegro agitato, certainly underlining the agitation part. Yet with the movement we hear any number of tempo and mood shifts as the various themes pour out of the violin. Moreover, Ms. Maslovaric seems wholly dedicated to displaying the music in its best light, whether dancing lightly through the notes or stressing their intensity. The ensuing Scherzo is a happy, bouncy affair, and Ms. Maslovaric imbues it with a tender care that ensures we don’t see it as lightweight or frivolous. The Adagio has a faintly melancholy tone, and the final Allegro shows a brilliance that matches the opening section.

Next, we get the little Sonata in E flat major, which survives in manuscript form only. It evidences a good deal of creativity, and one wonders why the composer chose never to publish it. The final work in the album, the Sonata in A minor, Op. 18 (1864), is also a relatively short piece, its four movements totaling around twenty-three minutes. It displays some of the same qualities as the E minor Sonata, although in more compressed form. There are strikingly lovely passages of high Romanticism juxtaposed with vibrant moments of excitement.

For fans of chamber music looking for something a bit different, Ms. Maslovaric’s decision to emphasize in her repertoire classical works by female composers comes as a welcome change of pace for the record industry, and her recordings make a welcome addition to the classical music catalogue.

Ms. Maslovaric recorded the album at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA, mastered it at Romanowski Mastering, San Francisco, CA, and released it in 2012. Although the piano sounds slightly bigger and closer than the violin, the piano is also somewhat softer and more resonant, the two instruments both exhibiting a smooth, rich, natural response. Output seems a little high, so you’ll need to adjust the gain when you start it up. The violin is particularly lifelike, and the two players appear well imaged, with strong dynamic contrasts to set them off.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa