SCHUBERT: Violin Sonata in D, D384. Violin Sonata in a, D385.
Violin Sonata in g, D408. Violin Sonata in A, D574. Rondo in b, D895.
in C, D934. Sei mir gegrüsst! (transcr. for violin and piano), D471.
Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano).
Hyerion CDA67911/2 TT: 73:27
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Outside of a few pieces, I didn't get into Schubert until my forties.
I could take, but mostly I left him alone. Although I can point
to no "Aha!" moment, I now want to know everything. The violin
sonatas have been particularly underserved as far as the concert hall
goes. Prior to this CD, I encountered only the g-minor, on an RCA LP
They really haven't broken into the awareness of the classical-music
public at large.
Part of this we can blame on Schubert's publisher, the firm of Diabelli,
who relabeled them as "sonatinas" and "duos" in order
not to scare off the amateur market, which might be intimidated by a "sonata." Consequently,
performers tended to trivialize them as not worth the time and talent.
This recording, however, reveals six wonderful works. The Sonata in D
of March 1816 we can describe as "Mozartean" without a blush.
In fact, although less structurally complex, I think it as good as any
the Mozart violin sonatas, a feat extremely difficult to pull off. Schubert
began by taking Haydn and Mozart for his models and later began to incorporate
Beethoven. However, in almost all of his early work, there remains something
individual. The opening movement, for example, shows an eagerness to
modulate to remote keys and back to the home key in a brief amount of
short-circuiting normal classical harmonic progression, something that
becomes a Schubert musical fingerprint. The slow movement, more Haydnesque
than Mozartean and less individual, nevertheless sings beautifully. The
6/8 rondo finale, again owing something to Haydn, skips capriciously,
with surprising episodes of mock-serious counterpoint.
The Sonata in A minor, written the same month, shows something more personal.
Schubert seems to try out Sturm und Drang and in the process leaves
Haydn and Mozart behind, although not entirely forgotten. Beethoven has
a new model, with an opening theme consisting of odd leaps and descents.
The themes also get fuller development than in the previous sonata. Unusually,
the sonata first movement consists of three major ideas, each in its own
key (a, C, and F). The slow second movement not only recalls Mozart but
looks forward to Mendelssohn in the quality of its singing. The second
major idea again, following the main theme of the first movement, consists
largely of unexpected intervals, and again Schubert comes up with wide-ranging
modulations. The brief minuet (actually, a scherzo) consists of an assertive
opening and a delicate trio. The rondo finale seems caught between two
eras. The exposition is classically poised, while the episodes have the
intensity of Beethoven, as the violin shows its claws.
The Sonata in G minor comes from the following month -- an amazing rate
of productivity, considering the quality of these three sonatas, by no
the only thing
he wrote during that period. The first movement again consists of three
main ideas, each in its own key (g, B-flat, and E-flat). A dotted rhythm
in the unison opening dominates the movement, a unifying trick Schubert
got from Beethoven. The andante second movement quotes almost note-for-note
the Romanze movement from Mozart's third horn concerto. However,
a little descending scalar fragment (the secondary theme), first in major,
in minor anticipates the song "Ganymed" of the following year.
The scherzo (marked "Menuetto") harkens back to Mozart. The
effervescent finale begins almost serenely but gradually becomes as exuberant
The following year brought forth Schubert's final violin sonata in A
(which the publisher labeled a "duo"). What a year it must have been,
since the sonata has a much larger duration scope than the previous three.
The opening has a bass accompaniment that mimics that of the song "Die
Forelle," written five months before in March of 1817. The movement
proceeds unhurried, a fine example of what Schumann called Schubert's "heavenly
lengths." Haydn and Mozart have disappeared. This movement is all
Schubert, with a serenity he recaptured in the late Cello Quintet (1828).
The scherzo second movement shows the influence of the Beethoven scherzo,
with extreme dynamic contrasts, syncopations, fragmentary sections, and
once more Schubert's fondness for modulations to remote keys. Some composers
-- Tchaikovsky comes to mind -- move heaven and earth just to modulate.
Schubert easily slips in and out. The slow movement at first hearing
seems a throwback to a rather simple classicism, but few classical composers
could have conceived (or perhaps even understood) the harmonic scheme.
The music begins in C, but you quickly find yourself in D-flat with little
idea of how you arrived there. The final rondo recalls the scherzo, especially
in its capriciousness. It jumps like lambs in Spring, with gentler pastoral
These four violin sonatas particularly impress as examples of the chamber-music
ideal of a conversation between equals. The two instruments talk easily
to one another, one backing up the other taking the lead or deftly passing
the lead on and quietly commenting. Schubert mastered this combination
of violin and piano. However, he didn't try it again until 1826.
A rare example of Schubert's virtuosic writing, the Rondo in b (also known
as the Rondeau brillant), created after the nearly decade-long gap, has
the gravitas of late Schubert while fully living up to the promise of brilliant
display. He did compose it for the Czech virtuoso Josef Slavik. A longish
movement of over 13 minutes, with strong elements of sonata form handled
not classically but experimentally, it begins almost like a French overture,
with its forceful double-dotted rhythm, and soon begins taking day trips
to remote keys. A cantabile section follows, but Schubert doesn't let up
on the modulations. The double-dots return and after about 3 minutes, this
introductory section ends on two notes, a step apart, blurring the tonality.
These two notes then carry over to start the main theme of the rondo. Tonality
hovers between b-minor and D-major, then b-minor and B major in the first
episode, which also begins with the same two notes. The development of
each episode is substantial as are the long transitions from episode to
main theme. Much of the music again plays off two notes a step apart. Beethoven
obsesses over four notes in the Fifth Symphony. Schubert needs only two.
The long, long buildup to the finish, from about 5 minutes out, particularly
The Fantasy in C, also written for Slavik, comes from 1827, the year
before Schubert died. Slavik premiered it in 1828. It lacks the formal
of the Rondo, but then again it is a fantasy, a genre that doesn't require
architectural rigor. Rather, Schubert's fantasy strings together separate
sections: a longish introduction, a technically brilliant allegro (marked "allegretto"),
a substantial slow set of four variations (the longest section of the piece
by far) based on the song "Sei mir gegrüsst!" (1821-22,
text by Rückert), and a bravura finale, which the liner notes by
Richard Wigmore rightly compare to the Marches militaires. The variations make
the piece, as far as I'm concerned.
Finally, we get an encore of the original "Sei mir gegrüsst!," a
song popular in Schubert's lifetime and here transcribed for violin and
piano. Formally daring, it has the "feel" of a strophic song
(same music for each poetic stanza), but it is really through-composed.
Schubert accomplishes this in two ways: beginning with roughly the same
idea and varying the middle; ending with the same tag on the words "Sei
mir gegrüsst!." Harmonically, the song ranks as one of the
composer's most subtle. It begins in B-flat, very quickly (one note altered)
up in D, and just as quickly returns to B-flat. As the song proceeds,
we get more of this. All this technical foofaraw aside, the song is one
Schubert's most beautiful.
I can pay Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien no greater compliment
than to say that they disappear into Schubert. These readings -- so complexly
shaded, so beautifully phrased -- have become some of my favorite chamber
recordings. The give-and-take is elegant and the emotional discernment
as close to perfect as possible. Certainly they surpass anyone else I've
heard in this repertoire. They also have recorded albums of Ravel and
of Szymanowski. I've got my order in.
S.G.S. (December 2014)