Labor: Violin Sonata; Cello Sonata; Theme and Variations

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To browse more of Josef Labor's chamber music recordings available on the Capriccio label, click here.

The positive response to Capriccio’s first recording of his Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet (C5390) has enabled this series to be continued now with three works representative of Labor's oeuvre from the early 1890s. In Vienna, Labor was part of Johannes Brahms’s close circle of friends. Brahms particularly valued his composer colleagues who went their own way without copying him. Labor’s music is very skillfully composed, always sensuous, and first and foremost melodious; it does not require a too complete concentration on itself. A total of around eighty compositions have survived. Among them are practically no occasional works, which is connected to the fact that he was blind: for him composition was a luxury, insofar as he had to rely on the help of a scribe who had to commit the work to paper.


Josef Labor’s work list is relatively small in number, not much more than 80 compositions in total. Largely this is as a result of his concert career as an esteemed organist, and pianist—in which capacity he made a tiny number of recordings—and his extensive teaching practice.

His Violin Sonata No 1 dates from 1891 and its flowing lyricism indicates Brahms as a primary influence, not unsurprising in the case of the Vienna-based Labor. Thematically attractive, this well laid out four-movement work enshrines a rather ‘antique’ element in its slow movement, as its indication of Tempo di Menuetto-Quasi Sicilienne would indicate though, in this performance at least, there seems too little tempo contrast between the opening two movements. The finale shows Labor at his best in its quasi-improvisatory way but, true to form, though he prioritizes lyricism it’s never forceful; Labor remains a genial, generous composer. In terms of recorded balance I think Oliver Triendl’s piano is privileged over violinist Nina Karmon.

The Cello Sonata No 1 was written a few years later. Again, there is a feeling of free-flowing unimpeded lyricism, the piano busy, the cello serenely lyric, that marks out Labor’s priorities in sonata repertoire. There is plenty of Late Romantic ardor, as well as lissom frolicsome material in the Scherzo with the piano—Labor’s own instrument—leading. The compact third movement is a Quasi andante that functions much as an intermediary bridge to the finale which is energetic and has plenty of athletic esprit. The balance between the instruments is better here.

The final work is the Theme and Variations for Horn (or cello) and piano, written soon after the Cello Sonata. There’s Beethovenian precedent for the structure of this work, and its alpine warmth, finely brought out by Přemysl Votya, its metric changes and varied characterization of its variations are all most attractive and so too is the confident end to this eight-minute work, a fine addition to the horn-and-piano repertoire, though Labor sanctioned the use of a cello as well.

Labor was a genial composer who never aspired to empyrean realms. There is a lyric practicality and a self-containment of means and expression that ensure that nothing disturbs the dappled calmness of his music-making. There’s a smallness, perhaps, to much of his writing but it’s affectionate and well crafted.

-- MusicWeb Internaional (Jonathan Woolf)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 07, 2021

  • Catalog Number: C5430

  • UPC: 845221054308

  • Label: Capriccio

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Romantic

  • Composer: Josef Labor

  • Performer: Floris Mijnders, Nina Karmon, Oliver Triendl, Přemysl Vojta