DEBUSSY Beau soir (arr. Heifetz). Violin Sonata in g. FRANCK Violin Sonata in A. SAINT-SAËNS Violin Sonata No. 1 in d • Maria Bachmann (vn); Adam Neiman (pn) • BRIDGE 9394 (68:49)
Violinist Maria Bachmann presents here three of the most famous French violin sonatas along with Jascha Heifetz’s transcription of one ofRead more Debussy’s most popular chansons. Robert Maxham raved about her recital disc on Endeavor 1020, The Red Violin, in Fanfare 31:2 (and, in fact, has given good reviews to a number of her discs), and her recording of sonatas by George Rochberg and Beethoven (the “Kreutzer”) on Connoisseur Society 4178, made way back in 1991, was given qualified praise by David K. Nelson in Fanfare 14:4. An indication of how far Bachmann has come in those intervening 16 years may be gleaned from the fact that Nelson described her tone as “sturdy rather than pretty,” while Maxham who also interviewed Bachmann in 30:6, described her tone as of 2007 as firing her recital “with a white-heat intensity that could melt asbestos.” I personally found her tone exceptionally beautiful in places, but nowhere more so than in the Heifetz transcription of Beau soir. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that as soon as she began playing this, what popped into my mind immediately was the exquisite if somewhat eerie vocal quality of Clara Rockmore’s theramin, although I don’t think Rockmore ever recorded this piece. Bachmann achieves exactly the same kind of echt-vocal phrasing and expression that Rockmore did in pieces like Rachmaninoff’s “O cease thy singing, maiden fair,” so close to that of a soprano that one is almost stunned to realize that there are no words and that the performer is playing an instrument, not singing.
Much of the same quality can also be heard in the very opening of the Franck Sonata, yet as the music progresses one hears—as Maxham so aptly put it—an intensity that could melt asbestos. Bachmann uses not only constant vibrato in her playing but a slightly wider vibrato than one is used to hearing nowadays…it’s a sound that one associates with such French musicians of the past as Grumiaux or Neveu. Throughout the Franck sonata, in fact, one is also acutely aware of the splendid contribution of pianist Neiman, whose playing follows Bachmann into every nook and crevice of the score with extraordinary sensitivity and alertness.
The duo carries the same combination of suavity and intensity into their perusals of the Debussy and Saint-Saëns sonatas, indeed making so much of this music that after a while one is only conscious of the sound of the music, and not necessarily the intervention of the performers, which to my mind is the way it should be. The ebb and flow of the music is expertly, I would even say perfectly, judged by the two artists—note, for instance, the exceptionally well-defined “rocking rhythm” in the opening movement of the Saint-Saëns, which Bachmann leads perfectly into the following passages, and which imparts an acute attention to detail within the longer lines of the complete movement as it unfolds. This seems to be typical of her music-making, an expression as much of delight in the structure of the work as much as in its emotional content.
One may also hear how far she has developed her tone from its days of “sturdiness” to its present richer, at times more seductive, quality in the Adagio of the last-named sonata. There is a certain coolness about this music; it is relaxing but in an arresting manner, not exactly seductive, yet Bachmann manages to entice the listener via subtle inflections while maintaining the proper emotive balance. She makes of the last movement an exciting moto perpetuo that absolutely soars, so magically intense it is even in the soft passages. Quite simply, this is an outstanding disc, and one that will captivate you.
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