Violin Sonata no.1 in D minor Op.16 (1868)
Violin Sonata no.2 in A minor Op.21 (1875)
Violin Sonata no.3 in G minor Op.23 (1879)
Mathilde Milwidsky, violin; Sam Haywood, piano
Toccata Classics TOCC0541 [84’36”]
Producer Michael Ponder
Engineer Adaq Khan
Recorded 6-7 April 2019, 10 November 2019 at Middlesex University, London
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Toccata Classics continues its not inconsiderable coverage of women composers with this disc of the violin sonatas by Agnes Zimmermann (1947-1925), little recognized as a composer but whose achievements as pianist, teacher and editor were readily acknowledged by her peers.
What’s the music like?
Born in Cologne but largely resident in London, Zimmermann long enjoyed a reputation for her pianism throughout Europe. Her own output is not extensive and mainly from her earlier years, with these three sonatas a notable addition to British music of the mid-Victorian era.
Lasting around 28 minutes, the format of these sonatas is consistent without being predictable. Each begins with a finely proportioned Allegro, the First Sonata being most straightforward in its purposefully contrasted main themes. That of the Second Sonata is more understated, its main themes merging into a seamless continuity whose ominous import is briefly disrupted in the central development. As to the Third Sonata, this commences with greater expansiveness then maintains such deliberation through its intensive development and on to a fatalistic coda.
Each sonata has a Scherzo, placed second in the initial two sonatas. That of the First Sonata brings appealing animation and rhythmic subtlety, not least as regards its warmly ruminative trio. By contrast, that of the Second Sonata has a lively insouciance which is accentuated by some deft syncopation and a notably winsome trio. That of the Third Sonata is placed third (not entirely justifiably) and is itself closer to an intermezzo on account of its halting main theme, to which the trio offers only minimal contrast in its mixture of elegance and pathos.
The slow movements are all designated Andante. That of the First Sonata is an ostensible ‘song without words’ and evinces a distinctly Mendelssohnian poise. Whereas that of the Second Sonata centres on a hymn-like melody that proves capable of no mean fervour as it evolves over the course of music whose direct eloquence never risks becoming cloying. By contrast, that of the Third Sonata (placed third) feels more akin to an intermezzo in its lightness of texture and wistful main theme, not least as it heads towards a subdued close.
As to the Finales, these all tend toward the trenchant and unequivocal. Most notably that of the First Sonata, albeit with a wistful second subject to offset the prevailing impetus. That of the Second Sonata unfolds more stealthily in keeping, with the trajectory of this work taken overall, though the decisiveness of its ending is hardly in doubt. That the Third Sonata needs a finale to balance the weight of its first movement is undoubted and this does not disappoint in its eliding ardency and affection, before an elaborate though not over-wrought apotheosis.
Does it all work?
Yes, in that Zimmermann was essentially a consolidator of the chamber tradition stretching from Beethoven, through Schumann, to Brahms. Her violin sonatas are at least equal to those by such British contemporaries as Parry and Stanford in their conviction and craftsmanship.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. Mathilde Milwidsky is an unfailingly persuasive exponent and astutely partnered by Sam Haywood. Sound is unexceptionally fine, and Peter Fribbins pens a detailed analytical overview. Why the sonatas are featured on CD in reverse order is, however, anyone’s guess.
You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.