The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Herwig Zack (violin) Bernd Zack (piano)
Composer: Catoire, Ravel

This delightful recording would be worth having just for the enchanting playing of Tzigane, written for Jelly d’Aranyi, and the Habanera, originally designed for cello but beautifully transcribed for violin by Kreisler, though here in the inspired, sensual version by Georges Catherine, used by Heifetz among others.

The Frankfurt-born Herwig Zack, former concertmaster of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, is an established master. His beautifully idiomatic playing, tinged with a sense of frailty and vulnerability, is matched by a maturity and experience appropriate to a former pupil of Max Rostal.

Bernd Zack, his younger brother, who attended the chamber music classes of Janos Starker, is also a finely sensitive player: a quality needed in the music of Georgy L’vovich Catoire (1861–1926), a Russian composer of French descent who in his last decade (from 1916) was a professor at the Moscow Conservatoire.

Catoire was in part self-taught, and while his essentially Romantic music draws strength from Debussy as well as Fauré, it has a delicious freshness if also a taxing technical waywardness. The virtuosic single-movement Second Sonata, despite an early climax and rapturous build-up midway, is a delightful extended reverie that underlines Catoire’s fondness for cross-rhythms (particularly in the hard-worked piano part) and quite distinctive chromaticism.

The lulling Elegy has an exquisite, pleading violin line, with some lovely double-stopping midway. The First Sonata, in places more Russian in character, includes an enchantingly played Barcarolle with superb high-reaching touches, and an appassionato finale. Many would enjoy this repertoire, especially as the Avie–Bavarian Radio recording captures both players so splendidly.   

Roderic Dunnett