Agnes Zimmermann — another find from Toccata Classics

Labels matter. I’ve learned to trust the record label Toccata Classics. They often release music by composers I’ve never heard of (and that’s saying something). But it’s always been music I’ve found worth exploring.

So when I saw this release of Agnes Zimmermann’s violin sonatas, I knew I had to audition it. Agnes Zimmermann was mostly known as a concert pianist and performed with Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim. She published her own editions of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann. And she also composed.

The three violin sonatas receive their world recording premiere with this release. The first was written in 1868, and dedicated to Joseph Joachim. The Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in D minor, Op. 16 is a well-crafted work. Zimmermann follows the standard four-movement sonata form, but not slavishly.

In a way, the sonata is somewhat plain-spoken. Zimmermann sets out her ideas and works with them. She avoids technical fireworks — the musicians simply play. The focus is on the music, and the music is quite beautiful.

The second sonata of 1875 plays with the order of the movements (the Scherzo’s second). And the third sonata, written four years seems denser and more complex. But at the heart of it, all three sonatas seem to share the same aesthetic. They have a story to tell, and they’re going to do so in a direct fashion.

Violinist Mathilde Milwidsky performs in a direct fashion as well. Her vibrato is a little understated, letting her instrument sing with a clean, clear sound. She and pianist Sam Haywood perform well as partners. Milwidsky and Haywood play with insightful nuance. The phrasing is subtle, as are the dynamic contrasts.

But for Zimmermann’s music, it all works. Stylistically, I’d place these works somewhere between Schumann and Brahms. But that’s just an approximation. Zimmermann had her own voice, and one I was glad to hear. That’s why labels matter. Had these been released a label other than Toccata Classics, I might not have taken a chance.

Agnas Zimmermann: The Violin Sonatas
Mathilde Milwidsky, violin; Sam Haywood, piano
Toccata Classics

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