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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Music for Violin 1
Rondo in A major for violin & strings D438 [15.04]
Concerto in D major for violin and orchestra D345 [9.35]
Polonaise in B flat major for violin and orchestra D580 [5.52]
Sonata in G minor for violin and piano D408 [21.46]
Fantasy in C major for violin and piano D934 [25.04]
Ariande Daskalakis (violin), Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens, Paolo Giacometti (fortepiano)
Rec. Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany, December 2017 (works with orchestra); Stadsgehoorzaal, Aalmarktzaal, Leiden, The Netherlands, February 2018 (works with fortepiano)
SACD/CD Hybrid, Stereo/Surround 5.0; reviewed in surround
BIS BIS2363 SACD [78.40]

As can be seen this is CD 1 of a projected recording covering all Schubert’s music for violin. It is performed on period instruments including a fortepiano for the Sonata and Fantasy. This is to be welcomed since it allows us to hear this mostly youthful music as Schubert expected it to sound. Die Kölner Academie and their director Michael Alexander Willens are well known to collectors for their sterling work with Ronald Brautigam in his Mozart concerto cycle and other projects. The violinist was a new name, to me at least, but a quick glance at her impressive resumé, US born but based in Germany, Julliard, Harvard, membership of multiple top baroque and standard orchestras, long discography etc. etc, suggests the fault is mine. She is quite excellent and along with Paolo Giacometti makes the very best case for this music. She plays on a 1754 Guadagnini and her fortepianist plays an 1815 Lagrassa. BIS provides their usual exemplary sound and the issue utilises their new eco-friendly card packaging containing the booklet in one pocket and the paper CD envelope in the other. I will say it again, this decision by BIS is a sensible way forward in reducing plastic usage and is quite attractive too.

The problem with this issue is not the presentation or performance, it is the music. When discussing this SACD an academic friend remarked to me that the Fantasy D934 is the pick of a genre in which Schubert did not especially distinguish himself. Schubert was superb at almost every genre save perhaps opera and, it would seem, music for violin. The Fantasy is an extensive work of quality and it is favoured by violinists as the Schubert piece to play. It is beautifully handled here with the additional benefit, in my view, of a characterful period keyboard. It is the only late work in that genre and even then it is not in the same league as the other works of the last couple of years. It quotes rather, sentimentally, from the song "Sei mir gegrusst”. It is worth noting that Gerald Moore, when asking other accompanists what was their least favourite famous Schubert song, chose this as his least favourite. Schubert was said to be not very interested in virtuoso display and the display sections even in D934 support that view. Everything else on this SACD is fluent, charming and I fear unmemorable. This damning with faint praise must be put in context for this is, as Richard Strauss might have put it, first-class second-class music. Two other names come to mind for having produced lots of this (but emphatically not exclusively this), Mozart and Johann Strauss. I did enjoy the disc as mellifluous and beautifully played, but only the Fantasy is likely to require further hearings.

Dave Billinge

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