Violin Sonata in D major, D384 (Op. posth. 137 No. 1); Violin Sonata in A minor, D385 (Op. posth. 137 No. 2); Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 137 No. 3, D408
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin), Julian Perkins (piano)
Athene ATH 23208 58:34 mins
The 19-year-old Schubert was already a seasoned composer when he wrote these three sonatas. Although the lengthy liner notes claim they are ‘fascinating’, they mostly eschew Schubert’s distinctive harmonic and structural adventurousness in favour of melodious appeal and small-scale charm (the Third Sonata is musically the richest). They’re performed here on an 18th-century Leopold Widhalm violin, with an early Tourte bow, accompanied on a Clementi square piano.
The liner note makes a persuasive case for this intimate conception of the music, and one can sense the musicians’ enjoyment of it. And yet it’s only partially successful. The ensemble is so flexible that it’s occasionally ragged. The keyboard tuning of this fragile instrument veers in and out of focus. While I loved the exquisite timbre of its higher range, the bass sounded undernourished.
Other decisions also left me confused. The ornamentation enlivens repetitions and the rhetorical freedom is attractive. Yet the limited use of vibrato results in a dull, even languid sound, while the slightly bulgy portamento obscures the music’s longer, architectural lines. The experiment is fascinating, and certainly worth undertaking. But greater crispness and sparkling execution would transform this music from merely pleasant to utterly delightful.