Apart from the early sonatinas, Schubert’s works for violin and piano are difficult to place. It seems they weren’t meant to be taken as seriously as the last great quartets and the C major Quintet, but it’s hard to imagine them sounding at ease in the early 19th-century Viennese salon. The song-variations at the heart of the Fantaisie put on a good show of polite drawing-room charm, but the strange tremolando introduction strays close to a very late-Schubertian emotional cliff-edge. Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov are particularly successful in that strange, haunting opening. A shame then that the recording balances them so peculiarly, making Melinkov’s pianissimos sound distant and muffled.
Faust and Melinkov are also sensitive to intimations of later complexities and ambiguities in the Sonata, though here the spacious distant reverberation creates a curiously agoraphobic effect. That’s less of a problem in the more strenuously active Rondo brillant, though this time I really missed the sense of crazy bravura Gidon Kremer and Valery Afanassiev bring to the ending (DG). Teasing out subtleties and ambiguities is excellent in its place, but Schubert calls for abandon, intoxication, wild directness; here Faust and Melnikov sound just too suave and reined in. Faust may be a subtler performer than Kremer, but it’s the latter, with Valery Afanassiev, who encompasses more of the range of this fascinating, paradoxical music. Stephen Johnson