Schumann: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3
PERFORMER: Isabelle Faust (violin), Silke Avenhaus (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 597-2
Faust may not have the sleekest or richest sound, nor has she been particularly flatteringly recorded here – but this is a violinist who speaks Schumann from the very soul. Her performances palpitate with restless life, surprising bar by bar, always on the edge of temper or of melancholy introspection. She doesn’t merely follow the composer’s sinuous, mercurial narratives, slippery as fish, but embodies them. Where these sonatas can slither out of a lesser musician’s grasp, Faust’s tremble with nervous energy and iridescent colour. Just listen to the opening of the slow movement to the First Sonata and marvel at the range of timbres. These are also extraordinarily intimate performances, with Avenhaus a highly intuitive partner.

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The First Sonata is perhaps the most engaging, with its warm, subtle harmonies and encircling thematic material. The Second is the grandest in scope, with a beautiful slow movement – played here with unaffected solemnity – and cascading, brilliant finale.

A gem on this disc is the ill-fated 1853 Third Sonata, published only in 1956. Having collaborated on the ‘FAE Sonata’ with Brahms and Albert Dietrich, Schumann added two more movements to his original two, and gave it to Joachim, who praised its ‘concentrated-energetic’ quality. Unfortunately, it was later deemed of inferior quality by Clara and Brahms, so-called protectors of the composer’s reputation, and suppressed. It is certainly the hardest work to crack, veering as it does between the whimsical, salonesque and a dark, angular chromaticism. It could so easily sound obtuse, but Faust and Avenhaus compel, transforming the rippling arpeggios that accompany the little second movement waltz into troubling thunder, the good fairy turned Rumpelstiltskin.

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Faust is one of the most distinctive young violinists playing today. Highly recommended.