Schubert: Works for Violin & Piano
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"Whether or not the disc's producers intended it, this trio of works for violin and piano forms an interesting microcosm that pinpoints some of the compositional ideas that the composer returned to many times during his short life (1797-1828). The relatively early A major Sonata offers a dose of Classical elegance; the grand, sweeping gestures that open the Rondo Brillant identifies with the passions of Romanticism; and the lyric Fantasy in C major provides a signpost to his lieder (the third movement, in fact, is a series of variations on his "Sei mir gegrüßt".)
The father-daughter duo of Pamela and Claude Frank dispatch Schubert's music with admirable ease and an appealing aplomb--every indication is that they are having fun with these charming works. It's as if we have been invited into the Frank family living room for a casual afternoon of musicmaking. Both are accomplished soloists and chamber musicians of the highest order, and they complement each other perfectly." (9/8 rating!)-CLASSICS TODAY
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The Rondo Brilliant (D 895) was composed in 1826 as a showpiece for a very talented young Czech violinist, Josef Slavik. It consists of two parts: a portentous introduction followed by an extended lively section with gypsy overtones. It was one of the very few instrumental works published during Schubert's lifetime. Musically, it's an impressive piece written in Schubert's late style, and it presents plenty of challenge for the violinist. The Frank duo give it a fine performance, although I slightly prefer the one by Alexander Schneider, with Peter Serkin on the piano, because it's a bit livelier and emphasizes the gypsy element.
The Fantasy in C (D 934) is an unusual work, but one of Schubert's greatest. It dates from l827 and was also written for violinist Slavik. Both the violin and piano parts are quite challenging. The piece is in four, or maybe five, sections, but they're tied together without a break in much the same fashion as the later Fantasy in F-minor for piano duo. After a quiet introduction featuring an extended tremolo passage, a livelier section featuring a plaintive tune follows, with a contrapuntal ending. The third section uses a two-part theme based on Schubert's earlier song, "Sei mir getrusst" (Colloquially -- I greet you), followed by three variations and the start of a fourth before transitioning to a brief recap of the opening section, followed by a joyous sounding finale. The song theme is brought back just before the end.
I have a concern with the performance of this work by the Franks; unlike the sonata or the rondo, the balance between the violin and piano is a bit of a problem here, to the extent that sometimes the violin is nearly inaudible compared to the piano in the song variations. Granted, it's hard to maintain balance in the second variation, where the plucked passages on the violin are up against energetic runs on the piano, but I have a recording by Isaac Stern and Daniel Barenboim where reasonable balance occurs and Stern can always be heard. Just why the Franks fail to maintain the fine balance of the first two selections on this CD is a mystery. The three works were recorded over three days, and recording conditions may have changed from one day to the next.
These recordings were made in 1996, and except for the Fantasy's apparent balance problem the quality of the sound is excellent. The included brochure is informative about the selections on the CD and also contains bios of Claude and Pamela Frank. I would recommend this CD without reservation except for the concern noted above. The Franks are fine performers and understand Schubert's music, so it's a shame that the performance of the Fantasy is not entirely ideal.
As of this date (May 2013), MP3 files for download are not available.
Their rendering of the Fantasia in C D.934 is exquisitely spiritual, intensely intimate - overwhelming! There's a very real sense of being there with them as they play this music with inspiration from the inside out. It's that probing and personal, that introspective. They maintain absolute focus and continuity at all times. When they get to the Sei mir gegrust moment I feel like I'm going to pass out and my heart will burst.
Barenboim and Stern sound like automatons by comparison - phoning it in.... but with class. Their performance seems to lack soul and insight, or enthusiasm, and it feels like they really don't care very much or aren't terribly excited by the music. They are such great musicians, thought, that even their auto-pilot (this is an exaggeration) is significant.
Resembling the Franks in their comprehension and appreciation of this music, Goldberg and Lupu are closer to the honorable, committed, whole cloth performance that Schubert deserves. Koh and Uchida give their enthusiastic all to the Fantasia in C and what they do is pretty terrific - they're genuinely trying - but the supreme reading of Schubert's gorgeous, searching, sensual Fantasy is by far Claude and Pamela Frank's. They have the soul of this music, like the Budapest Quartet with Horszowski have in their Trout. The Franks shape and sing the line with such expressive delicacy and luminous lyricism - their playing of this supernal music is mind-bogglingly gorgeous. You can hear Artur Schnabel's radiant influence on their playing. Their Beethoven is also extremely beautiful, rhythmically charged with the same intelligent, rich, round, lavish sound.