Schumann: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 – 3

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Onyx
WORKS: Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105; No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121; No. 3 in A minor, Wo0 27
PERFORMER: Ilya Gringolts (violin), Peter Laul (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4053

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The rarity on the enterprising disc by Daniel Sepec and Andreas Staier is Schumann’s version of the Bach solo violin Chaconne, which adds a discreet piano accompaniment in order to make the piece more palatable to mid-19th-century taste.

Some ten years earlier, Mendelssohn had done the same for both this piece and the Prelude from the E major violin Partita, but Schumann went further, and supplied piano parts for all of Bach’s unaccompanied violin works, as well as the cello suites.

Perhaps in the Chaconne’s assertive opening chords we can detect the seeds of Schumann’s own violin sonata written in the same key of D minor, composed shortly after he had made his arrangement.

Schumann’s Chaconne actually sounds less grand than the original, and it rather sentimentalises the major-mode middle section of the piece, but it nevertheless affords a fascinating insight into the deep influence Bach had on the final phase of Schumann’s creative life.

Sepec and Staier give a fine performance, and the translucent tone of the 1837 piano by Pierre Erard (his instruments were favoured by Liszt) is even better suited to the Gesänge der Frühe (Dawn Songs) – Schumann’s last solo piano pieces to be published in his lifetime.

There’s much to enjoy in the violin sonatas, too, though the finale of the more modestly-proportioned A minor Sonata, taken at a very steady tempo, is rather lacking in tension; and Staier is over-generous with the sustaining pedal in the delicate staccato chords that accompany the violin’s pizzicato chorale theme in the third movement of the D minor Sonata No. 2.

Mind you, that all-important theme (anticipated, in typically Schumannesque fashion, in the closing moments of the preceding movement) is all but inaudible on the disc by Ilya Gringolts, where the piano’s bass-line is too heavily played by his less sensitive partner, Peter Laul. 

Gringolts shapes the music admirably well throughout, and his disc includes the rarely-heard Third Sonata, which didn’t see the light of day until the 1950s. (There is, incidentally, some doubt as to the order in which Schumann intended the middle movements to be played, and the listing in CD booklet doesn’t correspond with the performance.)

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The recording is less than ideal, with a somewhat scrawny violin sound, and the piano placed a little too distant. For a first-class version of the three sonatas, try the recording by Isabelle Faust and her admirable pianist Silke Avenhaus, available on the CPO label. Misha Donat