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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105 [16:10]*
Three Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 [11:11]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Scherzo from Sonatensatz in C minor, Op. posth. from FAE Sonata [5:42]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4 in C minor, BWV 1017 [17:52]
Itzhak Perlman (violin)
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. live, 30 July 1998, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, New York State*; 29-31 March 2016, Salle Colonne, Paris
WARNER CLASSICS 9029593789 [50:58]

"My dream always was to play with Martha ... We thought of completing that recording from 1998 by making another record almost 20 years later". The recording that Perlman refers to consisted of two-thirds of a live recital from Saratoga Performing Arts Center made in 1998 and released by EMI in 1999. It was reissued last year under the Warner banner and comprises Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and the Franck Violin Sonata, in thrilling, captivating performances. The other work in that memorable concert was Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op 105, here appearing for the first time. Their long-held wish to reunite for another collaboration has finally been fulfilled. This comes in the form of what is their first studio venture which completes this eagerly anticipated release.

Strangely, Schumann didn’t like his First Violin Sonata, composed in just five days in 1851, so he wrote a second, which, I have to admit, I do prefer. Nevertheless, the two players step up to the mark admirably in the Op. 105, imparting an impassioned quality to the music. The elegiac flavour of the opening movement, with its fleeting moods, is captured to good effect. The slow movement offers some balm to the senses. Perlman’s rich tone and affectionate contouring of the line, savouring the tender lyricism, is compelling, and there’s plenty of energy and robust muscularity in the brisk moto perpetuo finale, where the players unleash a torrent.

Eighteen years separates this live airing from the studio offerings and, despite both artists being now noble septuagenarians, the years have done nothing to dampen their ardour or technical prowess. Perhaps Perlman’s sound has lost some of the rounded warmth and bloom of his younger days. Argerich is as exciting and vital as ever. The combination of the two makes for a thrilling and irresistible experience.

The pianist is no stranger to Schumann’s Three Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, having played them throughout her career with various artists, and having recorded them on two occasions with the cellist Mischa Maisky. I always feel that she has a special affinity with this composer’s music. Originally written for clarinet and piano, they work very well when adapted for string instruments. Both players invest these exquisite melody-laden scores with a wealth of colour and poetry. They feed off each other, and if ever there was a meeting of minds and a singularity of vision, it’s here in abundance.

"I had never played the Bach sonata; I only discovered it for this recording. The Brahms, as well, never", commented Argerich. The Brahms is an exhilarating account, with a contrasting intensely-projected middle section. It’s a pity the pair didn’t record one of the sonatas, rather than this one-movement piece; there would have been time on the disc which, at 51 minutes, seems rather paltry – a missed opportunity.

The Bach Violin and keyboard Sonatas were not published in Bach’s lifetime and the precise dates of their composition cannot be determined with any certainty. They underwent two revisions, the second about 1740. It’s most likely that they were composed in Cöthen and revised in Leipzig. No. 4 in C minor, BWV 1017 traces its lineage to the church sonata tradition and, of the six, is stylistically more advanced and atypical. Argerich’s sprung accompaniment to Perlman’s eloquent vocal line in the opening Siciliano, with its echoes of Erbarme dich, is seductive. The fast movements are cleanly articulated, and the polyphonic strands of the finale are teased out with clarity and definition.

Admirers of these two artists will find a great deal to please in these inspired readings. The studio recordings have been warmly captured and the instrumental balance hits the mark spot-on.

Stephen Greenbank



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