Discovering recital repertoire

September 30, 2016 at 04:07 PM · I own a pretty extensive collection of violin music on CD, plus have a Spotify subscription, but the recordings I'm familiar with are mostly concertos and the most commonly-recorded recital works -- basically the stuff that gets recorded by big-name artists.

But in the last decade, there's been a large number of new recordings of less common violin works that are now readily available on online music services. It's hard to discover these recordings, though, unless you know what to look for. I want to broaden my own listening, and get some new ideas for what I want to play in the future.

What are your favorite pieces of recital-appropriate repertoire (sonatas, works with piano, solo repertoire), that are not warhorses learned by most students / extensively recorded by major artists? (i.e., no Thais, Tambourin Chinois, Franck sonata, etc.)

Alternatively, what are your favorite collections of short works? (CD compilations)

Replies (34)

September 30, 2016 at 04:28 PM · I find that Youtube, and the autoplay and recommendations feature will throw some interesting stuff my way. threads about recital materials have lead me to some interesting stuff as well. Searching IMSLP by instrumentation type has also been good.

I'm pretty interested in the history and climate of certain composers, so reading biographical material will sometimes yield talk of other composers, and so I'll check them out.

Sometimes I'll find a performer that I really like on Youtube, and they play works I hadn't heard before. When I discovered the violinist Alexander Labko, I saw that his only cd releases were sonatas by Medtner, who I had never listened to, so I bought the cds. I listened maybe once, and didn't really get the music, until I just put one of them in my car cd player and didn't bother taking it out until the whole cd had played through a few times. At that point, I really started to understand Medtner's idiom, and now I'm a big fan, which led me to start listening to his piano sonatas (I really recommend Medtner's violin sonatas, and specifically Labko's rendition, and this may sound ridiculous, but give them like 5 listens - The piano quintet is fantastic as well.)

Anyhoo, I think the Poulenc violin sonata is a little neglected, although there are some recordings (Midori's is great). Reger's stuff can be interesting, though a little dense. I like Martinu a lot. Milhaud has some beautiful works, and I doubt Villa-Lobos' sonatas are played much at all. Lekeu's sonata is gorgeous and sort of Franckian, although Hirschorn, Grumiaux and Ferras all recorded fantastic versions.

September 30, 2016 at 06:58 PM · If you haven't heard them before, these could be worth a spin:

Sarasate Magic Flute Fantasy

Myths, Szymanowski (fair number of recordings, but amazing; recently watched Janine Jansen doing this on youtube)

Aria and Toccata in Swing, Robert McBride (Louis Kaufman has a recording on youtube)

Seven pieces from Three Penny Opera, arr. Stephen Frankel

Fantasy extract on themes from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (Stephen Prutsman)

Arches, Kevin Puts (solo violin -- Bella Hristova has a recording)

4 Airs, Kevin Puts

La Boeuf sur le Toit, Milhaud

Two Movements (with Bells), Aaron Jay Kernis (Ehnes has a live recording on youtube)

String Poetic, Higdon

Grand Duo, Lou Harrison

Violin Sonata, Janacek (lots of recordings, but still...gorgeous)

September 30, 2016 at 07:29 PM · I played some movements from Ned Rorem's Night Music on my senior recital a very long time ago. Lovely music.

September 30, 2016 at 08:52 PM · Here's a couple of more recent French works for violin and piano;

Pascal Zavaro - Spirale pour violon et piano

Olivier Greif - Sonate pour violon et piano n°3 "The Meeting of the Waters"

September 30, 2016 at 09:04 PM · Imslp: "Every IMSLP membership comes with full access to the Naxos Music Library, a library of more than 1.8 million tracks for instant streaming."

It's the bargain of a lifetime for 22 Canadian dollars a year. The quality is pretty good - not all quite CD standard. I checked out a few spectrograms some of which showed a cut-off at about 16-17 kHz, and in some cases what appeared to be neat inaudible watermarking designed to protect the intellectual property investment, but nevertheless more than adequate for all normal listening - you'd have to have "golden ears" and even more golden equipment to notice the difference. But if someone is into that area I wonder if they're in fact listening to the technology instead of the music (rant over).

[Oct 3, 2016 a few minor revisions]

September 30, 2016 at 09:10 PM · Thanks for all the suggestions thus far! I have interesting music playing on Spotify at the moment. :-)

I've found Spotify Premium to be a very good deal. There's a much more extensive collection of classical music than any other online all-you-can-consume service, plus an offline mode. For anything common I'm working on, it's pretty straightforward to get 4 dozen recordings of it.

October 1, 2016 at 12:23 AM ·

i love Arvo Parrts Spiegel im Spiegel. It is nice and calming, also super technical ;)

October 1, 2016 at 01:16 AM · The Philip Glass duet is nice if you have a cellist handy!

October 1, 2016 at 01:38 AM · There's the Johann Pisendel sonatas. I prefer the one in A minor out of the few I've heard by him.

October 1, 2016 at 05:07 AM · Duo Fantasy by William Bolcom. There's a recording on Spotify, though the sound's not great. Actually, I like just about all of Bolcom's music for violin.

October 3, 2016 at 08:36 AM · Another contemporary French work this time for violin alone, about 8 minutes duration;

Eric Tanguy - Sonata breve

I might as well mention my own Introduction and Tarantella, also approx. 8 minutes duration.

October 3, 2016 at 12:29 PM · One of my favourites was the Albeniz Tango in the DUSHKIN arrangement. (I prefer it to Kreisler as there's more emphasis on the melody). Some challenging double stops. I used to have an excellent recording by Josef Suk on an 'encore' LP, but it's 'disappeared' - and never reissued on CD as far as I know.

October 3, 2016 at 02:19 PM · All very interesting. How about 19th-century repertoire?

October 3, 2016 at 02:19 PM · All very interesting. How about 19th-century repertoire?

October 3, 2016 at 04:21 PM · Great suggestions so far. I especially like Christian's suggestion of allowing the YouTube (or Amazon) algorithm to make suggestions.

Another way to search is by violinists who have recorded recital CDs because sometimes there is an out-of-the-way piece on there (at least, in the past that was true). I was looking for a recording of a Russian piece that my teacher gave me (Balakirev's E Major Impromptu, aka "Exprompt") and that led me to the Russian violinist Igor Politkovsky, and now the whole album is on YouTube. It's not a phenomenal recording but the selections are *great*.

ASM's Berlin Recital album has that Brahms Scherzo. That's very nice. With 19th century recital repertoire, you better have one whale of a pianist though.

Also -- what happens if you type "Violin Recital Program" into Google? Have others solved this problem before?

October 3, 2016 at 08:09 PM · Hi,

Here are some works that I have performed in concert over the last couple of seasons, that are less well-known but very nice, worth listening to, and that I would love to see programmed more often:

- The great Second Sonata by Fauré, which is much less often performed than the 1st, and his short pieces (there are 4 in total); did the Complete Works of Fauré several times, a very nice programme, which is rarely done, but really worth it.

- The Lekeu Sonata; love that piece

- The Nielsen Sonatas; rarely performed, really demanding, virtuosic, and challenging especially ensemble-wise

- The Sonata Op. Posth. by Ravel; written before the more well-known sonata but very beautiful

- The F.A.E. Sonata (by Dietrich, Brahms and Schumann). Though everyone plays the Sonatensatz, the other movements are very nice as well.

Anyhow, some recent ideas of lesser often played 19th c.-early 20th c. stuff that I have first-hand knowledge with...


October 3, 2016 at 09:09 PM · Yup, Paul, when I've tracked down these suggestions on Spotify, I've usually ended up listening to the whole recital disc, which is precisely what I hoped for. :-)

The Googled programs tend to be the commonly-played repertoire, and importantly, there's no real context, and the context of "I really like this, it's worth listening to" is what I'm looking for.

October 4, 2016 at 01:57 AM · I guess the other possibility would be a transcription or arrangements. Is there any Chopin you really like? Maybe someone has cooked it up for violin...

You should ask Raphael too.

October 4, 2016 at 02:22 AM · Seriously, the Spiegel im Spiegel is great. It is simple and beautiful when played just right. I suppose it would be hard to grasp at first, but I thoroughly enjoy it. I don't know of too many sonatas, but here are a few: Vaughn Williams, Hindemith, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, and Lalo have sonatas (the Dvorak is the sonata and not the sonatina).

October 4, 2016 at 04:31 AM · There's the Sonata Op.59 by Vincent d'Indy, I found a recording on youtube and thought the slow movement sounded particularly nice. I picked up the music in a bargain bin in Paris recently, so can't be too many violinists playing it.

October 4, 2016 at 04:33 AM · I played the Lekeu a couple of years ago; it's beautiful. The Hindemith is also nice and not at all difficult (played that on the same program as the Lekeu; the theme of the program was a loosely interpreted "post-modernism").

Stravinsky Suite Italienne has been on my bucket list for awhile now--maybe I'll do that next year.

October 4, 2016 at 04:31 PM · How about Stravinsky -- Pulcinella: Suite Italienne, Divertimento, or Duo Concertant (I've been listening to Stravinsky: Works for Violin and Piano (Carolyn Huebl); it's on Spotify.

October 5, 2016 at 07:18 AM · I went to this recital last year; The Charles Koechlin Sonata is a major work, one of his most significant in the chamber music domain (it's about 33 minutes duration). I'd also heard his Viola Sonata a few weeks before that, and enjoyed that too.

October 5, 2016 at 09:43 AM · I'm fascinated in rarely played repertoire (as long as it is of high quality). I'm currently exploring the music of Andreas Romberg, who is a contemporary of Beethoven. I recorded one of his violin sonatas earlier this year.

October 5, 2016 at 11:09 AM · How difficult is prokofievs solo sonata?

October 5, 2016 at 12:52 PM · Very

October 5, 2016 at 01:10 PM · I didn't even need that to be answered. LOL. Just put those words together ... "Prokofiev" and "solo sonata" and you've got a recipe for total disaster.

Cesar Cui Violin Sonata?

Anton Dvorak Romance Op. 11? (Big stretches of piano alone, but pretty)

October 5, 2016 at 02:52 PM · Are there any 20th century pieces for violin for recitals, including concertos, that are not crazy difficult? Mary Ellen, you did say that the Hindemith was not to difficult. How difficult is that exactly?

October 5, 2016 at 03:09 PM · Dvorak Mazurek, Szymanowski Sonata (less popular than the Mythes, at least, but musically arresting), Mendelssohn F Major (performed, but not popular-there's also the F minor), Gliere Romance (if the music was only available-PDF doesn't count), the rarely played Heifetz "Salon" pieces (transcriptions and editions), Elgar Sonata, Janacek Sonata, Poulenc Sonata, all Faure violin works as stated above, Oistrakh's arrangement of Liszt's "Schubert" Caprice (lovely AND fun), and a multitude of violin-composer works who should not have "disappeared" from the repertoire in the first place.

Edited to add Reger's and Hindemith's solo violin works as more than worthy of the Concert Hall.

October 5, 2016 at 05:31 PM · I'm playing Stravinsky's Suite Italienne for a recital in February. I'd never heard it before my teacher suggested it, though (and it led me to an awesome set of Perlman YouTube videos). Really love it. Not particularly difficult.

I recently found Reger's Suite in the Old Style while searching for Schnittke's work by the same name (which I'm playing in a recital later this month, and which isn't difficult at all). That led me to more CDs of Reger's works, which I've been enjoying listening to.

Adding a discovery of mine: My teacher introduced me to the Ysaye Mazurkas, which are a fun listen, but fairly difficult. They sound much more 19th-century, despite basically being contemporaneous with his solo sonatas.

Jacob, there are plenty of not-too-difficult 20th-century works (and of course Kreisler is a 20th-century composer). For a lot of students, their first 20th-century piece is Bartok's Romanian Dances. Some other examples: The Schnittke Suite in the Old Style is straightforward enough that you could probably sight-read it; it is a neoclassical Baroque pastiche, basically. Shostakovich's Romance from the Gadfly is straightforward, especially in its usual transcriptions (the original key is unfriendly). Shostakovich also has a great, very accessible, set of duets for violin. If you want to delve into weirder stuff, Webern's Four Pieces isn't hard.

October 7, 2016 at 04:26 AM · Hindemith violin sonata in Eb, op 11 no 1, is about as hard as Kreisler Praeludium & Allegro, in my opinion. It's only about eleven minutes long.

October 7, 2016 at 11:46 AM · For a shorter piece, check out the Heifetz recording of Strauss's "An Eisamer Quelle."

More substantial, and less likely to tax an accompanist, is Rosza's solo sonata.

October 7, 2016 at 12:38 PM · The best performance I've ever heard live was Tetzlaff playing the last movement of the dvorak sonatina as an encore. If you have a good pianist then it can be a show stopper.

October 8, 2016 at 05:53 AM · @Stephen I almost feel like that was pun intended when you said to listen to Heifetz for a shorter piece...

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