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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Violin Sonata in D major, Op. post.137 No.1, D384 (1816) [12:14]
Violin Sonata in A minor Op. post.137 No.2, D385 (1816) [22:17]
Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. post.137 No.3, D408 (1816) [16:51]
Violin Sonata, 'Duo', Op. post.162, D574 (1817) [22:46]
Rondeau brilliant in B minor, Op.70, D895 (1826) [14:14]
Fantasie in C major,, D934 (1827) [26:43]
Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, D821 (1824) [23:12]
Adagio in E flat major, Op. post.148, D897 (1827-28) [9:37]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Piers Lane (piano)
Tim Hugh (cello)
rec. 2014, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10850(2) [74:36 + 74:13]

Violin sonatas are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Schubert, but Tasmin Little argues a most convincing case for them, collecting all of Schubert's essays in the genre onto this double disc, with some more treats besides.  All of the sonatas were written when Schubert was still in his late teens, and all were published posthumously, so they cannot have had much of an audience during the composer's lifetime.  Many are brief - when he published the first three, Diabelli referred to them as sonatinas - but they're delightful, and hearing Schubert's astounding melodic gifts in this new context will give the pleasure of new discoveries even to someone familiar with his symphonies, songs and quartets.

The first sonata has a winsome bustle to its opening movement, while in the Andante the two instruments slot into one another as if they are finishing one another's sentences.  The finale is as dainty as any courtly dance and in this movement, as throughout the disc, Tasmin Little and Piers Lane play the music as though it were a great masterpiece, taking it seriously on its own terms and allowing it to sing for all it's worth.  After the breezy lightness of the first sonata, however, the second and third take the listener into a world of high tragedy, full of the youthful spirit of Sturm und Drang.  No. 2, in A minor has an urgent, intense Allegro, but a slow movement that is touching in its simplicity.  Seriousness returns for the Menuet, while the finale has a vigorous sense of the outworking of it themes. No. 3 has a serious edge to it, too, though here the violin and piano seem more carefully, considerately blended, the piano often seeming to soothe the rougher edges of the violin's lines.  The slow movement has a beautiful, Mozartian sense of simplicity to it and, while the Menuet is more cheerful, the finale has a slightly sardonic touch to the treatment of its first subject.

The fourth sonata Diabelli at least dignified with the title of "Duo", and it feels like a more mature work, even though it was written when the composer was only twenty years old.  The opening subject unfolds with the unforced lyricism of one of the great lieder. The Scherzo is of grander scale than any of the Menuets that serve as third movements in the earlier sonatas. The slow movement is beautiful but with a serious undertone, and the finale is light-hearted and buoyant, reminding you that this sonata dates from the same time as the Fifth Symphony.

The second disc moves away from conventional sonatas and into more unusual concert pieces. The Rondeau brillant - which was, at least, published in Schubert's lifetime - is a rather odd work, more conventionally virtuosic than you would tend to expect from Schubert.  Its slow introduction feels a little self-important, but the main Allegro seems to bristle with ideas and a genuine sense of give-and-take between piano and violin, and the slower interludes are often as interesting as the faster passages.  The E-flat Adagio for piano, violin and cello - effectively an alternative slow movement for piano trio - sounds sensational, with the piano and cello seemingly slotted into one another's soundscape in a way that is totally symbiotic, the piano commentating beautifully from the outside.  The C major Fantasie sounds fantastic too.  The opening is utterly spellbinding, the piano rippling gently beneath the violin as it sings a long, long line above it. While the Allegretto is more biting, the theme of the central Andantino sings beautifully, Schubert at his most melodically inspired.  The ensuing variations then seem to spill over themselves in their clarity and invention, and Little in particular seems to be inspired to produce something special for them, with music-making of blithe innocence and, at times, unrestrained lyricism.  The transition to the Allegro vivace section is full of portent and mystery, while that final section contains both joy and majesty. It's a nice touch to include the Arpeggione sonata with Tim Hugh on the cello.  The first movement is intense and lyrical, if perhaps a little cool, but he makes up for it in the slow movement, which is beautifully expansive, and a finale which is vigorously involved.

This is a very welcome set, then; a most useful collection of Schubert's less often heard music for string soloist and piano.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf


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