Notes and Editorial Reviews
SCHUBERT Duo Sonata in A, D 574. Rondo in b, D 895. Fantasy in C, D 934 • Tomas Cotik (vn); Tao Lin (pn) • CENTAUR RECORDS CRC3250 (57:45)
Violinist Tomas Cotik and pianist Tao Lin present a program of Franz Schubert’s works for violin and piano that’s outstanding from the very beginning —the jewel case opens to reveal not only informative notes about the composer and the
circumstances under which he wrote these works but, even more important, an extensive discussion of the historical and artistic choices—timbral (the general approach to the instruments in order to approximate the period’s tonal preferences), pedaling, vibrato, the realization of expression marks, tempos, note values, tuning, intonation (vertical and horizontal), repeats (they take them all), edition (Henle), accents, trills (from the main note unless otherwise indicated), and appogiaturas (each adapted to the context)—each treated with ingratiating thoroughness, lucidity, and geniality. And the performances prove worthy of the auspicious introduction: Their lofty musicianship dwarfs their profound scholarship. In the Violin Sonata’s first movement, Cotik and Lin generate a forward momentum, and Cotik’s technical command allows for a sharpness of articulation that nevertheless doesn’t seem either mannered or fussy, a strong lens bringing each bow stroke into focus. In the succeeding Scherzo, the two create dynamic contrasts that should make many listeners who are familiar with other performances take special notice. If this isn’t Fritz Kreisler’s Viennese Gemütlichkeit, it’s gemütlich nevertheless. In the notes, the performers describe their attempt to play through changes without losing the rhythmic thread—but reading about that practice will hardly prepare listeners for the charge this creates in performance. The duo embarks on the finale with a slash that brooks none of the comfort some performances suggest. But salon-like geniality somehow still tempers the reading’s concert-hall-like brilliance. The engineers captured the performers up close, so that they seem to be performing in an intimate venue (blessedly, there’s no heavy breathing). In fact, though, they recorded the program in September 2011 in Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Florida; and the recorded sound conveys a clarity and tonal opulence rare in recordings of violin music, making both instruments sound both lifelike and rich in timbral nuance.
Cotik’s boldness of attack in the sonata redoubles in the opening of the Rondo brillante, a work that, unlike the others, peppers Schubert’s sensitive lyricism with an almost ostentatious virtuosity. Cotik steps to the fore in the almost concerto-like violin part, engaging listeners with his pure tone (in all registers), his boldness of gesture, and a subtlety matched by his pianistic collaborator. Many passages, particularly near the end, should leave listeners almost breathless.
Schubert’s Fantasy has only slowly approached the gateway of the standard repertoire, perhaps because of its great difficulty (one leading violinist told me in an interview that she couldn’t imagine how so many young violinists dared to program it). Cotik and Lin make out of the opening a rapt dialogue that extends into the subsequent slashing section, with Cotik answered sonorously by Lin. The duo, both individually and in collaboration, play the variations on Schubert’s song, Sei mir gegrüsst, with a vibrancy and attention to detail that endow each with a strong individuality and a vitality. At the beginning of many passages, it seems as though Cotik must fail to reach higher than he already has, yet he somehow always manages to bring each phrase to a perfectly conceived culmination. In fact, as my interviewee pointed out, this isn’t an easy work for the violinist (that’s true of all the pieces on the program), but that difficulty doesn’t seem to bother Cotik. In the finale, Cotik and Lin stimulate a rush of adrenaline.
Lin plays a Steinway D, but the notes don’t identify Cotik’s violin. In a way, it’s almost irrelevant, because playing of this strength would overshadow almost any instrument’s profile. Cotik and Lin make Kreisler seem almost smarmy (of course, that’s an overstatement, for time hasn’t dulled the effect of Kreisler’s legendary collaboration with Sergei Rachmaninoff); the strong-minded Isabelle Faust, who gave a performance (with pianist Alexander Melnikov on Harmonia Mundi 901870) that I described in Fanfare 30:4 as blending “velvet blackness” with “silvery lyricism” sounds almost—almost—mannered; and Julia Fischer’s with pianist Martin Helmchen on PentaTone SACD 5186 348, which included both the sonata and the fantasia, which I reviewed in Fanfare 34:1, sound as though she’s filed down the detail. For those who may have concluded sadly that Schubert didn’t invest himself so fully in the violin pieces as he did in the songs and symphonies, these performances should be required listening. But Cotik and Lin should also raise appreciation of those already captivated by the works’ charms to an even higher level, offering insights and vitality in almost every measure to spark their enthusiasm. Urgently recommended.
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