The Strad Issue: January 2009
George Onslow’s three op.16 sonatas were composed in 1819 with the somewhat curious designation for fortepiano and violin or viola or cello. They exploit pre-Romantic features characteristic of Hummel, displaying surprising harmonic ingenuity and originality of content, and treating each instrument with a sense of equality, even if the pianist is often the leading light.
Adventurous listeners should find plenty to enjoy in these performances, which are stylish, technically assured and never overburdened with nuances at the expense of line. Clarity, liveliness and polish are the watchwords, allied to sensitive musicianship, and bold and decisive characterisation. These accounts are assisted by a recording of complete realism and presence within an acoustic that provides the requisite intimacy of ambience.
The two players – violinist Ilia Korol and fortepianist Norbert Zeilberger representing the Austrian chamber orchestra Moderntimes_1800 – demonstrate a laudable rapport, but they do lack consistency in their interpretations of the prominent dotted rhythm in the expansive opening movement of no.2. However, the remainder of this dramatic C minor work, the most substantial of the set, is imaginatively conveyed, both artists relishing Onslow’s delight in the unexpected and drawing full dramatic value from his bold harmonic strokes.
The most enjoyable work of the bunch is no.3 in A major, with the unpredictable violin line and agile fortepiano athleticism of its first movement, the sustained violin lyricism contrasted by the fortepiano’s more dramatic contribution in the Adagio, and the tongue-in-cheek humour of its finale, which is almost silent movie-like in character. I also enjoyed the waltz-like, Chopinesque central movement of no.1, characterfully realised. Overall, this disc provides a fascinating portrait of Onslow’s unusual and unpredictable musical personality.