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.
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.
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.