Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 - 1826)
Violin Sonatas Op. 10 (1810): No. 6 in C Major [8:54]; No. 3 in G Major [4:39]; No. 4 in E Flat Major [6:06]; No. 2 in G Major [7:58]; No. 5 in A Major [8:08]; No. 1 in F Major [7:49]
Quartet for violin, viola, cello and fortepiano, Op. 8 1806 [26:35]
Isabelle Faust (violin); Alexander Melnikov (fortepiano); Boris Faust (viola); Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt (cello)
rec. June 2011, Berlin, Germany. DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902108 [70:11]
Weber is a difficult composer to categorise. Pay more than mere cursory attention to his small corpus of chamber music, for instance, and all sorts of delights emerge. That broadening of appreciation seems to be the impetus behind the sprightly yet intelligent, colourful yet reflective performances on this new Harmonia Mundi CD.
Weber's output consists of over 300 compositions. Generalisations can perhaps be forgiven. Just to listen to the choruses at the ends of some of the scenes of Weber's operas is to appreciate his role as a shaper of the wider German Romantic aesthetic. So, too, the emotion, concentration and self-awareness of this intimate music for strings and keyboard is its own deep and exciting world. On the present CD Alexander Melnikov's 'Lagrassa' fortepiano from 1815 Vienna sounds splendidly rich and trenchant. Let yourself be drawn into the Rondo of the fourth sonata of Op. 10 [tr.7], for instance. There's pathos, precision and plenty of surprises as well as delicacy of melodic and harmonic idea.
The Piano Quartet is similarly opulent. Listen for example, to the way in which melodic ideas tumble over one another, mellow textures compete and harmonies lead to and from resolution in the first movement alone [tr.8]. It could have been written by Mendelssohn. Yet it has the crystal punchiness of the purely Classical style with as much emotional power as Mozart.
By letting the lines of the music with its forward-moving and upward-facing architecture lead them, these superb musicians don't have to work very hard to squeeze every last drop of expression from the Quartet.
There are also quiet and darker, sumptuously intimate and gentle moments. The opening of the Quartet's second, adagio, movement [tr.9], for example poises, pauses, presses then loosens the otherwise all but traumatic grip it has on the ear without ever verging on the melodramatic. Its emotional essence is brought out so naturally and effortlessly by these players. Mozartian, again.
Isabelle and Boris Faust, Melnikov and Schmidt play as a family. They are happy in the idiom, have that gift of seeming to be discovering the music as they play it on this recording yet are professional and technically expert to the core. They have the immediacy of much younger players eager to advocate a new enthusiasm for a newly discovered composer. The studio recording has the presence and edge of a public recital.
There is only one other recording (the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion CDA67464) of the Piano Quartet; and none in the current catalogue of the Op. 10 Sonatas. So these engaged and communicative musicians are breaking new ground. Yet there's not a wayward note, an indulgent tempo or an excessively-expressed phrase from first to last. There's consistency, shot through with delight and transparent with grace in the way in which each movement, each new musical idea of Weber's is exposed. Generally, the tempi are lively, though not hurried. The subtleties breathe and unfold crisply with an almost filigree precision that is never over-elaborate. Listen to the end of the Quartet's fourth movement [tr.11], for example: Weber has said, developed and summed up all he wants to say. The players never announce anything. They simply bring to the music's development an appropriate minimum of narrative as well as total involvement.
The same goes for Isobelle Faust and Melnikov as they 'return' to the Sonatas after the Quartet. This is placed at the centre of the sequence of pieces; a great idea. The variation continues too: the second movement, adagio, of the Second Sonata [tr. 13], for example, is so gentle, understated and reticent as almost to suggest silence itself. The players are not winking at us listeners as they play; yet they surely know we're watching and listening. They rightly expect us to be as taken with the enticing rigour and excitement of Weber's music as they are.
The acoustic is just right: close but not overbearing. The aural experience is enhanced by the miking. The booklet has useful information on Weber, the players and the works. This is music that deserves to be better known. It has qualities of beauty, clarity - and a velvet crunch - that go a long way towards abstracting it from any epoch. The gift that Isobelle and Boris Faust, Melnikov and Schmidt have is to play in a way that's both conscious of that abstraction and at the same time which revels in the conventions of early nineteenth century Romanticism such that the very essence of the music is present from start to quizzically determined finish.
Mark Sealey
Music as full of substance as it is energy and nuance performed with style and sensitivity on period instruments.

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