Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. 3430241.aa_Violinist_Gudrun_Schaumann_Enters.html
Violin Sonatas Nos. 1–3. 3 Romances,
Violin Sonata in f.
Romance for Violin and Piano
Gudrun Schaumann (vn); Christoph Hammer (pn)
CAPRICCIO 5040 (2 SACDs: 130:11)
The violin sonatas of Robert Schumann are played and recorded far less often than one would expect for a composer of his stature and compositions of such high quality. Unfortunately, they have dwelt under the light of an exceedingly ill-omened star. All composed between 1851 and 1853, shortly before Schumann’s final complete breakdown in 1854, it became common early on to dismiss them as inferior works that were incipient reflections of the composer’s declining mental state. Indeed, Clara Schumann withheld the third sonata from publication, and it did not appear in print until the Schumann centenary in 1956, with a corrected critical edition appearing only as recently as 2001. The third sonata is a curiosity in another respect as well; two of its movements, the Intermezzo and Finale, were originally written for the composite F-A-E sonata for renowned violinist Joseph Joachim, to which Brahms contributed a scherzo and Schumann’s protégé Albert Dietrich the opening movement. After the original presentation to Joachim, Schumann composed two more movements of his own to replace those by Dietrich and Brahms. The original composite F-A-E sonata was published in 1935, some 21 years before Schumann’s own integral version, in an edition riddled with more than 700 errors, which further inhibited positive knowledge and reception of Schumann’s portions of it.
The present recording is significant on three grounds. First, it presents all the violin sonatas from the recent critical edition of Schumann’s complete works. Second, it is, so far as I can discover, the first recording of these works on period instruments (one previous recording, on Jecklin, apparently used a fortepiano but a modern violin). Third, the performers have placed the works in a broader context by surrounding them with contemporaneous compositions from members of Schumann’s inner circle—his wife, Clara; the violinist Joachim; and Clara’s half-brother by her mother’s previous marriage, Wolfgang Bargiel. A decision whether or not to buy this set will depend in good part on how much weight one assigns to each of these factors, especially the latter two, since there are other recordings of these works made from the new critical edition.
For many people, their disposition toward period instruments in mid 19th-century repertoire may be immediately decisive. The ones used here—a 1731 Cremona Stradivarius with catgut rather than steel strings and an 1836
sound exactly as one would expect: less robust and more transparent, less silken and more rustic, with more rapid decay of sound and less reverberation. Offsetting this, the recorded acoustic is very much on the resonant side. My own preference here happens to be for modern instruments, but even so I find these performances satisfying and attractive. Certainly, there is no lack of commitment and passion in the interpretations by Schaumann and Hammer, which are at once both energetic and lyrical, and leavened throughout with subtle rubato for expressiveness.
As for the companion works, the three short pieces of Schumann’s op. 94 are the composer’s own adaptation of his original works for oboe and piano. (Schumann also prepared a version for clarinet at the same time.) They are lovely miniatures and vastly superior to the inconsequential romances of Joachim and Clara Schumann also included on this set; the works by Clara are particularly weak, though the third one makes a better impression than the first two. The Bargiel sonata is another matter; this is a terrific piece that cries out for inclusion in the standard repertoire and almost overshadows the Schumann sonatas. The masterly first movement, with an extraordinarily memorable declamatory first subject using the notes of a minor triad, and a contrasting second subject of galloping triplets, is in a Mendelssohnian
Sturm und Drang
mode, but with a dramatic weight and fire that bring to mind both Beethoven and Liszt. The second movement, cast in A-B-A form with a theme and variations in the outer portions, is in Mendelssohn’s more lyrical vein but agitated in the middle section. The finale has a main theme with a mild Gypsy flavor reminiscent of Brahms, with whom Bargiel was acquainted through Schumann. This set is worth acquiring for the Bargiel alone.
What if one adamantly prefers modern instruments here instead? Having sampled about a dozen other recordings of the integral Schumann sonatas (and confining myself only to recordings including all three, as opposed to only the first two), I was surprised and pleased to discover that virtually all of them are worthy alternatives. With so many meritorious options, I do not have a single recommendation and suggest that readers sample recordings (through online sound clips or other means) to find the interpretive approach they find most attractive. For that purpose I would suggest using the Sonata No. 2 as a reference point. Do you prefer the opening chords of the first movement to be strongly accented and detached (e.g., Ilya Gringolts and Peter Laul on Onyx) or played
(e.g., Carol Widmon and Dennis Varjon on ECM)? Should the start of the third movement sound like a plucked harp or lute (e.g., Ensemble Villa Musica on MDG), or much fuller and rounded (Maria Egelhof and Mathias Weber on Thorofon)? These passages immediately convey strongly contrasting interpretive profiles, from which one can choose one’s preferences. There are literally dozens of recordings of the Schumann op. 94 pieces in various instrumentations to fit all tastes. And, surprisingly, there is even one alternative on modern instruments for the Bargiel, a fine performance on the MDG label by members of the Trio Parnassus, coupled with the composer’s Piano Trio No. 1 and an Adagio for cello and piano. But if you favor period instruments, you won’t go wrong with this set either.
FANFARE: James A. Altena