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César Franck (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A-Major (1886) [29:07]
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G-Minor (1917) [13:51]
Robert Schumann(1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke Op. 73 (1849) [11:15]
Dora Schwartzberg (violin); Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. 10-12 December 2005, Dada Studio, Belgium. SACD
AVANTICLASSIC 10232 [53:54]
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Dora Schwartzberg is a well-known teacher, soloist and orchestral musician, originally from Russia, but now living in Vienna. She is best known to disc-buyers as a chamber music colleague of Martha Argerich and others of the Martha Argerich Project, part of the Lugano Festival. With members of the Project she has recorded the Schumann Piano Quartet and Quintet for EMI and the Schumann violin sonatas for the present label avanticlassics, of which more later. She is heard again in Schumann’s Fantasiestücke on this disc and in two of the most famous French violin sonatas.
The Schumann may appear a little unfamiliar as music for violin. The Op. 73 pieces were originally written for clarinet and piano. They have frequently been played on the cello, but this is the first time that I have seen them for violin. No one is listed as the transcriber here. The pieces do not play as well on the violin as on the clarinet or cello and Schwartzberg’s rather dragging style of playing does not help the illusion that these are violin pieces. However, she plays the portamento passages in a lovely way and has a feel for Schumann’s phrasing that is quite felicitous. Ms. Argerich shows the nimble passagework and fleet tempi that she always does in Schumann.
The dragging tendency that I mentioned above also manifests itself at the beginning of the Debussy sonata, but after a while Ms. Schwartzberg homes in on the music to produce a performance that is a lot less languorous than one frequently hears with this piece. The SACD recording is just right for this and focuses the attention even more strongly on the violinist’s excellent intonation. The playing in the slow movement is even more precise and the intonation equally good. At the same time Ms. Schwartzberg negotiates each abrupt tempo change with great dexterity. The last movement features a good deal of writing in the lower register as did the Schumann transcription and Ms. Schwartzberg is very comfortable with this aspect of the piece. Throughout this movement and indeed the whole work she ties together a work that can sound fragmented through well thought-out variations of tempo and a consistent sense of forward motion. Overall, an impressive performance.
Last month I reviewed an older recording of the Franck sonata with Pierre Amoyal and Pascal Rogé. It may be interesting to compare that performance with the one on this disc. Both performances could be described as warm, but not overly passionate. But where Amoyal seemed concentrated on pace and motion, Schwartzberg is more concerned with keeping the cyclic connections and transformations in plain view while still maintaining as much forward drive as possible. In the first movement of the Franck she is only partially successful, but in the second movement this approach bears fruit and this and the slow movements contain her best playing on the disc. The playing is romantic without being too much so. Ms. Argerich keeps up with her throughout and demonstrates that even familiar music can be shown in a different light. The two performers take the last movement at a faster tempo than is usual, but make this emotionally convincing. The Franck is the most interesting performance on the present disc and shows Ms. Schwartzberg as a soloist of intensity and precision if not always of the most searching musicianship.
The present label, avanticlassics (one word, lower case), is a subgroup of the Belgian label pure music sprl. The label seeks two things: to promote appropriate connections between artist and repertoire in their recordings and to give those recordings the best sound that present-day technology can supply. On this disc the recording team provides a sound that while not warm or especially intimate, is so pure that the listener is totally focused on the music itself and the performance. This is just the right approach for Ms. Schwartzberg and can also be found on her avanti disc of the Schumann violin sonatas.
William Kreindler


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