This is a beautiful disc. I'll openly admit that 20th Century chamber music usually leaves me cold, and isn't my area of study or interest. And the first few seconds of the opening Präludium of the Suite had me worried. This is not easy listening. But this program of Czech composer Erwin Schuhoff's complete music for violin and piano is both generously packed and very convincing. Bruno Monteiro and pianist Joäo Paulo Santos have already tackled some adventurous repertoire for Naxos and Brilliant Classics, and this may be their finest achievement on disc.
Since moving to Brilliant Classics, Monteiro's unique tone has been beautifully captured. Joäo Paulo Santos isn't a mere background artist, but a deeply sensitive and commitment artistic partner. His piano is also judiciously mixed into the picture, much better here than on some of the pair's earliest releases on smaller labels. And thank God, too. There's a lot of piano writing in both the suite and the sonatas, and none of it is especially simple. But the violin writing is consistently inventive and proves very rewarding.
Although he lived until 1942, these works date from the composer's early years (the Suite is in fact, Op. 1). Nothing here was composed after 1927, and there are influences from all over the musical world. Unlike Dvořák or even Janáček, both so unabashedly Czech in flavor, this music has less of a nationalist feeling, and a more modern one. There are hints of jazz, of a neoclassical approach (Brahms comes fleetingly to mind in places) and most importantly, a highly personal musical voice. An exception to these statements comes in the form of the Sonata for Solo Violin. The music here is distinctively indebted to Schulhoff's great predecessors, and has an biting wit and rustic charm.
The sound is excellent and ideally compliments the performances. These pieces would be an ideal recital item, and I'm a little surprised we don't hear them more often. Thanks to Brilliant Classics for this important addition to both the composer's discography and the library of violin music on disc.
Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman