Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonatas: No.1 in A minor, Op.105 (1851) [17:37]; No.2 in D minor ‘Große Sonate’ Op.121 (1851) [14:16]; No.3 in A minor, WoO2 (1853) [20:52]
Ulf Wallin (violin); Roland Pöntinen (piano)
rec. July 2009, Nybrokajen 11, the former Academy of Music, Stockholm, Sweden (Sonata No. 1) and May/June 2010, Studio Gärtnerstraße, Berlin, Germany (Sonata Nos. 2 and 3)
Hybrid Disc (SACD Surround/SACD Stereo/CD Stereo)
BIS-SACD-1784 [74:06]

Robert Schumann’s three violin sonatas are tough works that mirror the composer’s physical problems and mental torments. I have been waiting for a recommendable recording of all three violin sonatas for a while and this release fits the bill splendidly.
In 1851 the forty-one year old Schumann, not long in post as musical director at Düsseldorf, wrote close together his Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor and Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor Große Sonate. This had been a productive time for Schumann as the previous year he had completed both the Cello Concerto and his final Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Rhenish with his four act opera Genoveva recently having received its première.
The Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor proved to be a successful work. However, shortly after having completed the D minor Second Sonata Schumann expressed his discontent stating, “I didn’t like the First Violin Sonata, so I wrote a second, which I hope turned out better.” The windswept opening movement of the A minor is never able to settle. Wallin and Pöntinen convey sense of the torment of searching. Intimate, attractive and melodic, the Allegretto calms and soothes the most frayed of nerves. The scurrying Finale is rife with nervous anxiety and the players undercover a sense of melancholy hidden below the surface gloss.
The lengthy Violin Sonata No.2 followed close on the heels of the A minor. A distinctly weightier work than its predecessor, it was described by Clara Schumann as, “wonderfully original, and has a depth and magnificence that I find virtually unequalled - it is an overwhelming piece of music.” Wallin and Pöntinen assuredly convey a bitter-sweet quality to the opening movement cleverly designed so as to contrast tempi and mood. The lithe and sunnily entertaining Scherzo is light on its feet. Designed as a set of variations and based on the chorale melody Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ the slow movement is a masterpiece here played with captivating tenderness. The decisive and determined duo play the Finale with stirring virtuosity and vigour.
Schumann wrote two movements an Intermezzo and a Finale for the four movement F.A.E. Sonata a collaborative effort with fellow composers Brahms and Albert Dietrich. It was intended for its dedicatee, virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim who was asked to guess who wrote each movement. Schumann took his two completed movements and wrote two additional ones to form his four movement Third Sonata in A minor. After Robert Schumann’s death in 1856 Clara Schumann withheld the score from publication. It was not until 1956 a hundred years after the composer’s death that it was published and publicly performed. I attend many recitals and can confirm the view of Ulf Wallin that Schumann’s violin sonatas are only very occasionally played - in particular the neglected Third Sonata. The opening movement contains squally music infused with episodes of relative calm. This is followed by the rapt tenderness of the Intermezzo so lovingly played by Wallin and Pöntinen. Sometimes placed second, the Scherzo: Lebhaft here feels volatile and engaging. I enjoyed the sprightly, spirited and often exhilarating Finale.
It’s pleasing to have all three Schumann sonatas on the same disc. Many alternative versions give us only the first two sonatas. Of those I have especially admired the expressive accounts from the starry pairing of Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich. They were recorded in 1985 in Switzerland and issued on Deutsche Grammophon 419 235-2. I have yet to hear the set played by duo Carolin Widmann and Denes Varjon recorded again in Switzerland in 2007 (ECM New Series 2047).
Wallin and Pöntinen are players of the first rank and deserve to be known by a wider audience. Their performances here are fresh and vibrant with playing that feels natural and never forced. I was delighted by their wonderfully toned instruments with Wallin playing a violin by Venetian luthier Domenico Montagnana with a Grand Adam bow (1850) and Pöntinen a Steinway D Concert Grand. The detailed booklet notes are as excellent as I have come to expect from this source. On the front cover the painting Auf dem Segler (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich further adds to the overall appeal.
With highly impressive playing, sound and presentation it is hard to find fault with this excellent release.
Michael Cookson

Highly impressive playing, sound and presentation - it is hard to find fault with this excellent release.