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French Fantasy
Violin Sonata in G minor (1917) [14:30]
Beau Soir (c.1880) arranged Jascha Heifetz (1935) [3:06]
César FRANCK (1811-1886)
Violin Sonata in A major (1886) [28:33]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor Op.75 (1885) [22:33]
Maria Bachmann (violin)
Adam Neiman (piano)
rec. December 2011, Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, SUNY College at Purchase
BRIDGE 9394 [68:49]
Both Maria Bachmann and Adam Neiman are youthful but experienced American musicians whose reputations largely precede them. I’m not sure how long, if at all, they have performed as a duo but they make a fine ensemble. They are active recording artists, though of the two I’ve thus far only heard discs by Bachmann.
They’ve chosen a Franco-Belgian programme without any surprises. To the three major sonatas they add Heifetz’s arrangement of Beau Soir, which is delightfully traversed albeit for my own tastes Bachmann vibrates just a little too much in her opening statements. I find the sonata performances altogether more problematic but I appreciate that this is because I find that recitals of this work that are insufficiently lithe fail to convince me structurally. Bachmann and Neiman take great care over phraseology and dynamics but their too-elastic take brings concern. Firstly, momentum in the first movement fails to re-establish itself after such fluctuations; second, there is over-expressive phrasing in certain key places. The slow movement is technically well done but it lacks a real sense of fantasy and lightness. It is also too knowing, and the finale too discursive. I appreciate that performers are under no obligation to base their performances on those of past masters-indeed it would be foolish and inartistic to suggest that they do so. However there is a good reason why fiddlers such as Alfred Dubois, Jacques Thibaud, Zino Francescatti and Heifetz all took almost exactly the same sort of tempo (though with vastly different expressive pointing) in this work. Architectural tightness generates the necessary expressive heightening. If you unstitch that, the music’s cloth unravels all too easily.
Franck’s sonata is more admissible of varying latitudes. The Bachmann-Neiman reading is a thoughtful, sensitive and in many ways good one, not least in revealing how a slightly small-scaled performance can nevertheless find its way through the sonata’s manifold thickets. Thus they don’t charge through the second movement Allegro in a way that other duos can do, thereby spiking their guns before the sonata is half way over. For this duo their most sweeping and dynamic playing is, rightly, reserved for the finale though it relaxes when and where necessary, and most convincingly.
The most successful performance is that of Saint-Saëns’s D minor sonata where a balance between Heifetzian dynamism and patrician Gallic reserve maintains a good eyrie on the music. That said, she aligns herself very much with Heifetz’s two recordings at least until the finale, where she resists his level of Allegro molto in favour of something just a little more clement. The slow movement is highly effective in this performance and the finale, too, fizzes with commitment but, vitally, with digital clarity, something the clear recording quality accentuates.
Admirers of these two musicians can acquire this disc without any concerns. I remain very much more unconvinced by some interpretative decisions but I will say that those decisions have been tenaciously and musically upheld in performances that remain consistent and strongly argued.
Jonathan Woolf