Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3
Alban Beikircher (vn); Benedikt Koehlen (pn)
ARTE NOVA 807740 (73:43)
Having just issued a rather thorough review of the best and brightest currently available of the Schumann sonatas, I’ll not repeat myself here. Readers are directed to a
32:4 review of Carolin Widmann’s ECM disc for details on these sonatas. For now, let it suffice that I still prefer Pinchas Zukerman in these works, though he omits the patchwork and
completely wonderful Sonata No. 3, as do Kremer/Argerich. So we are essentially left with Jennifer Koh, Widmann, Isabelle Faust, and now Alban Beikircher for modern recordings of all three works.
But maybe not up-to-date modern, as these Arte Nova readings are actually from 2000. This is a frustrating label—so much useless junk, along with an almost-equal number of absolutely wonderful recordings, many of which seem to date from 10–15 years back. There are hundreds and hundreds of issues in the Sony/BMG back catalog that have never seen the light of day that would thrill collectors, and it would be nice if they would release them in a no-frills package like they do with Arte Nova. (Sometimes I wonder if these people even know what they have wasting away in their vaults; what I wouldn’t give to take a leisurely tour through the back rooms of this company.)
So whenever I get an Arte Nova from our publisher, I approach it with a lot of trepidation and a definite “show me” attitude. In this case, both thumbs were sticking to the ceiling, so enthusiastic I became as the tracks of this disc rolled by. Before I break a sweat, I’d better announce that I cannot say that this release surpasses the ones mentioned above; but I can say that in many cases it certainly equals them, and there is something about Beikircher/Koehlen’s intimate approach that differentiates it from the other collections of the canonical three. Whereas Koh has a certain reserved passion and classical elegance and Widmann hits you in the face with unrestrained Romantic exuberance, Beikircher, as he even admits in his notes to this release, does not attempt to out-Schumann Schumann. Rather, he tried to maintain a certain formal control and let the music do the rest, sort of like the captain of a high-speed boat not wanting the engine to get out of control, instead letting it do its work. I am a bit surprised, having been a promoter of performer passion in Schumann’s works, that this take on things is as successful as it appears in these sonatas. But what they sacrifice in passion is made up for in the personal and almost one-to-one contact between performers and listener. The sound is nicely balanced, with no excessive reverb, and the violin tone is as good as any I have heard. At the price, if you don’t have these works, it’s tough not to suggest this as a first choice, even with the felicities of the other recordings available.
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