Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Sonata no.1 in D minor, for violin and piano, op.75 (1885) [24:14]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Sonata in E flat, for violin and piano, op.18 (1888) [29:65]
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
João Paulo Santos (piano)
rec. Carthusian Church, Caxias, Lisbon, Portugal, 14-15 June 2007. DDD
CNM (PORTUGAL) 451CD [54:00] 

Two unalike but beautiful Violin Sonatas are united on this new release by the Portuguese multi-genre label CNM. This is almost for the first time: veteran American violinist Aaron Rosand's recording with Seymour Lipkin on Audiofon (72026) back in 1990 may well be the only other. That disc also included Grieg's C minor Sonata. For a while Rosand's recording probably enjoyed a sizeable presence in the market as it was then. Nowadays there are so many more recordings available of these two works that this recital by Portuguese natives Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos may struggle to find a foothold. By pure bad luck it must compete against the new Chandos recording of the Strauss (with works by Respighi) by Tasmin Little and Piers Lane (CHAN 10749).It also vies with Maria Bachmann and Adam Neiman's Saint-Saëns (with Debussy and Franck) just released on Bridge (9394) - itself coming within a few months of Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk's widely acclaimed recording of the Saint-Saëns with Ravel and Franck.
In other words, Monteiro, Paulo Santos and CNM certainly like a challenge! Their cause is not helped, it must be said, by the relatively ungenerous timing of the disc or the rather inconspicuous CD design. Nonetheless, all is not lost: after all, the music is the thing. There is no question about the quality and broad appeal of these two Sonatas, and the performances themselves are very persuasive. Monteiro is one of Portugal's top violinists, and he and Paulo Santos have performed and recorded together many times, developing a good rapport that approaches telepathy. Monteiro consistently strikes an almost ideal balance between the expressive and the intellectual, especially in Saint-Saëns' masterpiece. His tone is warm but never saccharine against the cool neutrals of Paulo Santos's pianism. As a team they offer, for anyone who has forgotten quite how brilliant the D minor Sonata is, an insistent reminder. The two of them have already demonstrated an affinity for French music in their recording for Centaur of Chausson's Poème and his Concerto in D, the latter performed with the Lopes-Graça Quartet (CRC 3120). On the other hand, their Schumann disc released last year, also on Centaur, showed that they also have the emotional wherewithal to tackle the Germanic repertoire (see review). So it proves in Strauss's Sonata, all but his last word in chamber music, and a deceptively demanding work - technically and psychologically. It gives Monteiro and Paulo Santos a chance to dazzle.
Sound quality is good, the church ambience spacious and pleasantly humid. The booklet is a low-key affair, unlikely to win any awards for concept, and without pages as such - English-only notes by Monteiro are printed on the inside front and back cover. One of Strauss's three other pieces for violin and piano, the pre-adolescent Two Little Pieces in G, the so-called 'Daphne' Study or the parting Allegretto in E, and/or one of Saint-Saëns' other short works - an Elégie, perhaps, or the Caprice Brillant? - would have beefed up the recital nicely.
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Persuasive performances of these two Sonatas.