While Schubert mastered the solo piano and the string quartet,
as well as the human voice, it always seems to me that he wasn't
entirely comfortable with the violin. Sure, there are his two
great string trios, but there are only a handful of works for
violin and piano. Listening to the three works on this disc,
one senses how Schubert provides the piano with the most interesting
music, and how the violin tries to nudge into the score at times.
The violin's part can be so simple as to be somewhat boring.
I say that as an inveterate Schubertian. Listen to parts of
the first movement of the Violin Sonata in A, or the beginning
of the Fantasia in C, and you can wonder if there isn't a missing
cello part that would turn this work into a trio.
It's not that these works don't contain the essence of Schubert's
melodies - the long third movement of the Fantasia in C for
Violin and Piano, the first work on this disc, is a reworking
of Schubert's song Sei mir gegrüsst, and the overall
structure of the work is similar to that of the Wanderer
It's no surprise that violinists have not flocked to these works,
which, to this listener, are far from Schubert's best; and he
composed so much, that there is a wide range of other music
to choose from when one wants to get a dose of Schubert.
The recording itself is somewhat odd. There is an attractive
resonance, but at times the violin is simply overwhelmed by
the piano; in the opening movement of the Fantasia in C, there
are sections where it sounds like the violin is far behind the
piano. It's almost as if the violinist, Carolin Widmann, tries
to hide behind the piano's sound, because the violin's parts
are, at times, relatively simple. When it does get more complex,
with some fast runs in the Fantasy in C, the violin can seem
muddy and distant. Yet taken individually, each instrument is
very well recorded; aside from the position of the piano and
it’s rich and meaty. The violin can be incisive or smooth,
though there is a hint of roughness. Comparing it to another
recent recording of the same works - that by Julia Fischer and
Martin Helmchen - the sound of the latter is much more homogenous,
and the balance between the instruments much better.
This said, even Schubert's lesser works are great music, and
while these pale in comparison to the best chamber works - the
string trios, the late string quartets, and the transcendent
quintet for strings - they are still excellent with an hour
of fine listening. This disc wouldn't be my first choice for
these specific works - the two recent discs by Fischer and Helmchen
are, with the exception of the piano duet contain, excellent.
But both violinist and pianist seem deeply committed, and they
do the best they can to make the music come alive.
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog