International Record Review

“Violin Songs – melodies for violin with piano”, amounting to 23 individual tracks on one CD, might at first sight appear to be another of those interminable collections of “encore” pieces that litter the gramophone catalogues and record shops browser racks, without seeming to possess much in the way of unusual musical merit, other than feeding the vanity of the violinist in question. In this case, and despite rather unusual packaging which highlights Madeleine Mitchell to a degree (four photographs of here, three in full colour, and a complete listing of every other CD on which she appears – all on rival labels), one could be wrong. Here there are, undoubtedly, 23 individual tracks, but these include no fewer than seven separate works by Frank Bridge, amounting to over 24 minutes of music by the one composer (including the world premiere recording if his Morceau Caracteristique, alongside other rather salonesque pieces of his),together with Prokofiev’s Cinq Melodies, Op. 35b, three pieces by Elgar and a group of other items connected in some way with Paris in the 1920s – quite a mixture. In purely musical terms, therefore, this CD is not quite what it might appear to be at first, so merits consideration on several levels.

Elgar’s Salut d’Amour opens the disc, and if initially one might wish for a fuller tone from Mitchell, her genuine sense of inner repose makes a touching impression. Indeed, throughout this CD, her sensitive musicianship comes as a welcome antidote to the thrusting lusciousness of other violinists. In this, of course, she is constrained by the repertoire she has chosen, but one should remember the title of the disc – “songs” , not “fireworks”. As the programme unfolds, the impression thus conveyed is notably even-tempered, occasionally nonchalant but never superficial. Not that Mitchell lacks authority when called for – as in the third of Prokofiev’s Melodies, or Bridge’s Moto Perpetuo – but it is not often called for here. She has the inestimable advantage of Andrew Ball as her partner; this fine British pianist is an admirable accompanist, and in Richard Strauss’ song “Morgen” both Mitchell and Ball accompany soprano Elizabeth Watts in giving a notably successful performance to end the disc.

It is unnecessary to comment upon every track here, but I should mention Mitchell’s transcription of Alban Berg’s song Die Nachtigall, which works extremely effectively in this version – her phrasing is quite outstanding. The recording quality throughout is good. Mitchell contributes her own booklet notes. Recommended.

—Robert Matthew-Walker