Kuyper: Violin Concerto in B minor (CD review)

Also, Sonata for Piano and Violin. Aleksandra Maslovaric, violin; Tamara Rumiantsev, piano; Mikel Toms, Brno Philharmonic. Feminae Records CD1401.

Serbian violinist Aleksandra Maslovaric continues her recordings of classical works by female composers, and again the decision comes as a welcome change of pace for the record industry, which seems predominately populated by male composers. Certainly, the main reason for so many males in the recording marketplace is that male composers dominate the classical repertoire; and perhaps another reason is that I've read males tend to buy more classical recordings than females. Nevertheless, Ms. Maslovaric's recordings make a welcome addition to the classical music catalogue, especially when they are recordings of composers who seldom get much attention.

Having never heard anything from the Dutch Romantic composer and conductor Elisabeth Kuyper (1877-1953) before, I wasn't sure what to expect from the concerto and sonata on the program. I'm happy to say they live up to the high standards of composer's Kuyper's professional career and violinist Maslovaric's prodigious talents.

In 1901 Kuyper was the first woman to study composition at the Meisterschule für Komposition, led by Max Bruch, where she proved quite a productive composer. In 1905 she became the first woman composer awarded the Mendelssohn Prize, after which she composed what is probably her best-known work, the Violin Concerto in B Minor we hear on the present disc. In 1908 she became the first woman appointed as a professor of Composition and Theory at the Hochschule für Musik. Unfortunately, in those days there was very little opportunity for women musicians, so she made her own way. In 1908 she formed a women's choir at the Lyceum Club, and in 1910 she formed and conducted the Berlin Women Musicians' Orchestra. In 1923, she founded the London Women's Symphony Orchestra, and in 1924 she founded the American Women's Symphony Orchestra in New York.

The album begins with the Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 1 from 1902, Ms. Kuyper's very first published work. Like the concerto that follows, the sonata is clearly in the late-Romantic mold, filled with lovely melodies and sweet harmonies. The sonata comprises four movements: Allegro ma no troppo, Bolero, Andante con espressione, and Allegro energico e con fuoco. These descriptions are pretty self-explanatory, and Ms. Maslovaric plays them with great expression. She clearly has strong feelings about the music and isn't afraid to reveal them through her performance. It seems odd that people should neglect Kuyper's music these days, but I suppose her style, coming as it did at the very doorstep of the modern era, even early on sounded quaintly old-fashioned to a lot of ears. To my ears, however, the music appears attractively refreshing in its purity, simplicity, and innocence. Or maybe that's just the way Ms. Maslovaric plays it; in any case, it's quite charming.

The program continues with the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 10, premiered in 1908. The concerto comes from the big, grand tradition of piano concertos by Bruch and Saint-Saens, yet it, too, finds little but neglect, lost perhaps in a musical world of transition. Nevertheless, powerful, personal musical statements never fully go out of style, and maybe Romanticism is making a comeback after all. (Not that it's ever been out of favor with the general public, the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still dominating the record-sales charts.)

Anyway, the concerto follows the traditional concerto form of fast-slow-fast movements, in this case an Allegro con fuoco, Adagio, and Prestissimo. While there is little that is absolutely memorable about the concerto, the writing is so felicitous and Ms. Maslovaric's musicianship so enthusiastic, it's easy to like, even when the score seems more than a little derivative. The broad sweep of the first movement, the touching melancholy of the second movement, and the cheerful jauntiness of the final movement seem to me hard to resist.

Jakko van der Heijden recorded the sonata at Zeeuwse Concertzaal, Middelburg, the Netherlands; Jaroslav Zouhar recorded the concerto at Besedni Dum, Brno, Czech Republic; and Scott Levitin mastered the album at Warner Elektra Atlantic Studios, Burbank, CA. Feminae Records released the disc in June 2014. The sound is big and warm, in the sonata the violin and piano occupying mostly the same space, one just ahead of the other. The concerto is actually a touch more transparent, the orchestra revealing a pleasant breadth, air, openness, and depth of field, the violin placed in front of but not too far in front of the orchestra in a most-realistic manner.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa