Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata no.1 in A minor, op.105 (1851) [17:21]
Violin Sonata no.2 in D minor, op.121 (1851) [31:22]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Drei Romanzen, for violin and piano, op.22 (1855) [9:51]
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
Joăo Paulo Santos (piano)
rec. Great Hall, Escola Superior de Música, Lisbon, Portugal, 1-2 March 2010. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 3086 [58:35]
Robert Schumann's three Violin Sonatas belong to the last five years of his life, a significant portion of the extended period when some music historians have it that he was tormented by deep depression and thoughts of suicide - so much so that some even claim an attendant deterioration in the quality of his writing. In the notes that accompany this CD, pianist Francisco Sassetti does not go as far as that, but does say that Schumann's choice of A minor for the First Violin Sonata and several later works "is symptomatic of the composer's state of mind, tense and introspective".
Yet what composer is not introspective? Who does not experience tense times? Clearly Schumann's mental health was in serious decline in the final year or two of his life, but in the two Sonatas of this attractive recital by Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro and his stalwart pianist Joăo Paulo Santos there is little sign of anything but vitality and an imagination looks unequivocally to the future. Minor key tonalities do not always mean doom and gloom, and there is barely an unilluminated corner in either of Schumann's Sonatas. All claims to the contrary must be treated as possible cases of cod-psychology applied after the fact.
Schumann's wife Clara was a better composer than history has tended to give her credit for. What a pity that she decided to put an end to her composition career after Robert's death. Her Three Romances, op.22 - not to be confused with her Three Romances op.21, which were for piano only! - are important in that they constitute her only surviving work for violin and piano. Broadly stated, the pieces soar and sear like mini-tributes to Robert's First Sonata, both works overflowing with lyricism and personality.
Robert's writing for the violin is not exactly idiomatic, yet far from producing awkward music, a highly engaging soundscape is hewn that is rarely found in violin sonatas of the period. Anyone familiar with Schumann primarily through the Piano Concerto, a Symphony or the piano miniatures cannot fail to enjoy - and may indeed be rather thrilled by - these idiosyncratically vivid, dramatic and always poetic works.
There are many recordings available already of the two, frequently paired: choice picks among single-CD recordings include Marwood and Tomes on Hyperion (CDA 67180), Gringolts and Laul on Onyx (4053), Wallin and Pöntinen on BIS (SACD 1784), Widmann and Várjon on ECM New Series (4766744), Kaler and Slutsky on Naxos (8.550870). Yet this one on the American independent Centaur has plenty going for it too, not least the coupling with Clara's Romances, which is seldom encountered. Moreover, along with Carlos Damas, Bruno Monteiro is one of Portugal's leading violinists. His approach to Schumann's music may be characterised as approachably intellectual, with good attention to tempi and phrasing and very little vibrato. He is never drily academic, expressing emotional aspects effectively through an appealing smattering of rubato. Monteiro's violin has a tone that will not be to all tastes, however, being a little more on the fluorescent side than glowing.
Sound quality is good overall, if very bright, and Monteiro is rather closely miked. The notes by Sassetti are standard fare, written in not altogether elegantly rendered English. Surprisingly there is no Portuguese or German translation. An amusing typo in the German changes Schumann's "mit zartem Vortrag(e)" (literally 'with delicate expression') into "mit zartem Vortag", 'Vortag' being the German for 'previous day' or 'eve'. The CD is a bit on the short side: Schumann's Märchenbilder op.113 or Fantasiestücke op.73 would have filled up the disc and rounded off the programme nicely.
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Approachably intellectual playing with good attention to tempi and phrasing and very little vibrato.