The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Hisaya Sato (violin) Toshiyuki Takeuchi (piano)
Composer: Wagner

Thirty-eight-year-old Japanese violinist Hisaya Sato is to be commended on his ambition to revive long-forgotten repertoire and the launch of his own record label to promote it – all but three of the Wagner transcriptions here are receiving their first recordings. But he blots his copy book from the start with his indulgently soupy, lugubrious playing of Hans Sitt’s arrangement of the Tristan Prelude. Nearly every long-held note is approached by a gloopy portamento or a sultry nudge from below, like the worst cliché of the sobbing tenor. Everything is over-emoted at the expense of some coarse tone and suspect intonation: all Wagner’s enticing curves of chromatic harmony and melody have been smudged out of focus. He takes the same approach to Fritz Meyer’s transcription of the Liebestod.

Somewhat better, though, are the performances of Walter’s two songs from Die Meistersinger, a Siegfried potpourri and an atmospheric Parsifal paraphrase. Here he largely eschews the swooping and gliding for a chaster line and a more resourceful use of different tone colours, but it’s still all a bit overwrought. Nearly all the pieces end with a fading pianissimo and unfortunately Sato doesn’t manage to hold one of them unbroken to the end.

The recorded sound is a bit ferocious; and it’s a pity that the Japanese-to-English translation doesn’t extend beyond the artist biographies to the notes on the music.

Matthew Rye