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Romantic Treasures
Antonin DVORÁK (1841–1904)
Four Romantic Pieces, op.75 (1887) [13:54]
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat, op.18 (1887) [27:37]
Claude DEBUSSY (1962–1918)
La plus que lente (1910) (arr. Jascha Heifetz) [4:28]
La fille aux cheveux de lin (1910) (arr. Arthur Hartmann) [2:33]
Camille SAINT–SAËNS (1835–1921)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, op.75 (1885) [22:20]
Sergiu Schwartz (violin); Alec Chien (piano)
rec. May 2008, Kresge Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. DDD
ROMÉO RECORDS 7263 [70:58]


Experience Classicsonline

After you get past the title, which is rather misleading – Strauss’s half hour Sonata could hardly be called a treasure – there is quite a lot to enjoy here. Dvořák’s four salon pieces make a good start, relaxed and tuneful - but then Dvořák is always tuneful; he was very generous with his melodic invention. Then again, the second piece is rather more virtuosic and less melodic, yet, as always with this composer, very approachable.

Strauss’s Violin Sonata is no lost masterpiece. It’s a competent piece of work, in three substantial movements. The outer movements rely a little too much on sequential progression to keep the argument going. Strauss seems to think this will heighten the tension and forward momentum of the piece. Sadly, the thematic material isn’t the most memorable or exciting. Even so, he manages to make the slow movement a rather pleasant experience. The two fast movements are overlong and the music simply isn’t strong enough to sustain the playing time required. They neither say anything nor go anywhere. I know that this is harsh but we know what Strauss is capable of, and his real modes of expression are the song, opera and the orchestral tone poem. Schwartz gives the work the big treatment, which it craves, but the ear tires of the forward sound and having the big gestures pushed right in your face. Let’s be honest, the duo Sonata is not this composer’s forte. 

The two Debussy miniatures are delightful, and help to remove the taste of the Strauss work. They’re both delicate little things, real salon pieces like the Dvořák. It’s interesting how the addition of the violin changes our feelings and understanding of these pieces. Both arrangements work very well for the fiddle. I feel sorry for Saint–Saëns for the majority of his music has been overshadowed by a handful of pieces, especially the Carnival of the Animals. This does him a grave disservice for there is much excellent music in his catalogue: concertos and chamber works especially. This Violin Sonata is cast in two movements, each in two parts. It starts with a very virile fast movement – full of tunes and with fine interplay between the two instruments. This leads into a very simple, and lovely, slow movement. The scherzo is light and the finale fantastic and quicksilver. It’s a very beautiful work, compact and full of good things, and it receives the best, most committed, performance on the disk.

This a rather nice recital, well planned, well played and very interesting. We should hear the Strauss even if it’s a failure as a composition. The recording is very up-front. There’s no space between performers and listeners. Instead of turning up the volume to get a good perspective you really need to turn it down otherwise the sound, due to the very close recording, is unpleasantly harsh.

Bob Briggs



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