WEBER Six Violin Sonatas, Op. 10. Piano Quartet, Op. 8 • Isabelle Faust (vn); Alexander Melnikov (fp); Boris Faust (va); Wolfgang-Emanuel Schmidt (vc) • HARMONIA MUNDI 902108 (70:11)
Carl Maria von Weber’s six Sonates progressives pour le Piano-Forté avec Violon obligé, composées et dédiées aux amateurs appear out of their publishedRead more order in Isabelle Faust’s program—with the Piano Quartet inserted in their middle. The recital opens with the Sixth Sonata (in C Major). Like the other works, its movements don’t last very long, and the fact that the sonata includes only three hardly extends its length beyond nine minutes. Franz Schubert originally titled his similarly undemanding (until you actually try them) works sonatas, only to have his publisher change the title to sonatina. But in both cases, the sonatas (or sonatinas) of moderate difficulty seemed destined to appeal to amateurs. But few amateurs could play the opening of op. 10/6 with the technical sparkle that both Faust and fortepianist Alexander Melnikov bring to it. And the sparkle isn’t confined to the technical passages—the movement’s sudden expostulations and shifts in Affekt, in this performance, should keep listeners’ ears and minds open. At times in the finale, Faust draws a dark, almost viola-like tone from the 1704 Sleeping Beauty Stradivari, but she also plays some passages so close to the bridge that they sound almost raspy. In op. 10/3, the duo introduces great rhythmic flexibility into the opening “Air Russe”; and in the ensuing rondo (only two minutes long) they engage in witty repartee.
The Piano Quartet represents a more extended essay (Roman Hinke’s notes relate that Weber composed the first movement somewhat earlier), but it also seems to embody a higher rhetorical purpose than do the sonatas; and however capricious the first movement might have seemed to Hinke, it’s also more consistently stormier in this reading, especially in its middle section; even its more lyrical passages seem foreboding. The players bring the same urgency to the middle section of the slow movement, and after a surprise conclusion, they launch into the brief, witty—but elegant—Menuetto, which leads into the finale, with its chattering figuration in the strings, which the ensemble plays with cereal-crisp articulation.
The program continues with op. 10/2, a three-movement work with a contemplative Adagio, essayed by Faust and Melnikov with a hushed, eerily almost haunting sense of foreboding, framed by a Moderato (“Carratere Espagnolo”) and a Rondo (“Air Polonaise”). The changes in dynamics and the rushing passages of the finale, coupled with what seem like false starts, recall similar effects in Ludwig van Beethoven’s violin sonatas—or does the duo’s vibrant performance merely suggest the connection? In op. 10/5, the first movement (“Tema dell’Opera Silvana”) once again makes an international reference, not only in its theme but in its strutting variations, which the duo brings off with breathtaking panache. The recital concludes with op. 10/1, a short sonata with a Romanze at its center (a siciliano-like movement occasionally included in anthologies). Faust once again, in the finale, engages in some timbral drollery—especially abrasive sul ponticello.
If Hans Pfitzner’s remark, cited in the booklet, that Weber prepared through his earlier works for Der Frieschütz, seems a bit off the mark, it’s not clear that his later work flowed through these pieces. Yet they’re ingratiating in performances like these, recorded with a clarity that even transmits the occasional breath; and they should appeal to collectors of this kind of literature and to historians. Recommended.