Sonatas for Fortepiano & Violin, Vol. 2: Sonatas K. 376, 305, 301 & 378
Isabelle Faust (violin), Alexander Melnikov (fortepiano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902361 63.24 mins
How lucky we are to have two such individual and spontaneously imaginative violinists as Alina Ibragimova (on Hyperion) and now Isabelle Faust turning the spotlight of their recreative imaginations on Mozart’s duo sonatas for keyboard and violin. It’s also fascinating to compare their highly contrasted approaches. Ibragimova and her regular playing partner Cédric Tiberghien use modern instrumental set-ups and dovetail their playing with a deft sensitivity to balance and articulation. These performative choices demonstrate an awareness of historically- informed practice.
By comparison, Faust has restrung her 1704 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Strad with gut strings and uses a lighter bow, while Alexander Melnikov plays a modern copy of a 1795 Walter fortepiano. This allows them both to play flat-out in the allegros without the slightest sense of timbral inhibition or sculpting, even if the relatively generous acoustic (studio) setting creates a radiant ambient halo that tends to gently cushion detail.
Faust’s and Melnikov’s bracingly freewheeling approach also points up one of the ironies of performance sensitivity – that the urtext should not always be taken as sacrosanct in matters of exact notation. Accordingly, they decorate exuberantly and make subtle melodic and textural enhancements along the way – as Mozart and his contemporaries would have done – creating an invigorating sense of each score being a living organism.
One of the unexpected side-effects of such endlessly responsive and imaginative playing is that every now and then, as in the secondary material of K378’s opening Allegro moderato, Faust’s pulsing phrasing creates an unexpected whiff of Romantic cantabile. Just occasionally I also found myself wishing that the music might be allowed to settle without resorting to micro-inflections of phrasing, dynamic and articulation, although there is no doubting the prodigious skill and musical insights on offer here. Julian Haylock