SCHUBERT: Sonatas (Sonatinas) for Violin and Piano (Dong-Suk Kang/ Gunter Appenheimer/ Pascal Devoyon) (Naxos: 8.550420)
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Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Sonata ("Sonatina") for Violin and Piano in D Major,D. 384
Sonata ("Sonatina") tor Violin and Piano in A Minor,D. 385
Sonata ("Sonatina") for Violin and Piano in G Minor,D. 408
Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C Major, D. 934
There are one or two small mysteries about the straightforwardand, unproblematic set of three sonatas for violin and piano that Schubert composed in thespring of 1816. First, are they properly sonatas or sonatinas? Although until quite latelythey were always listed and printed as "sonatinas", this is no true mystery atall; Schubert never called them anything but "sonatas", but like so much of hismusic they did not reach printed form until several years after his death, when the firmof Anton Diabelli (whose name has been immortalized by the monumental set of variationscomposed by Beethoven on his trivial waltz theme) put them out as "sonatinas" in1836 in order to entice amateurs who might have felt dubious about their technical skill.
And for more than a hundred years sonatinas they remained. (Nevertheless, if we shouldchance to feel that Diabelli was in some way belittling the wonderful composer by his useof the diminutive, we should remind ourselves that he had also published, in 1821, thefirst two of Schubert's compositions to reach printed form: namely, the two songs, Der Erlkonig, which appeared as Opus 1, and Gretchen am Spinnrade, which was Opus 2.)
A more significant puzzle concerns the decidedly simple -attimes, almost naive-style of these three works; it is hard to realise that they are exactcontemporaries of the Fourth Symphony, in C minor,which the composer himself named the "Tragic". We know that Schubert, in hisveneration for Beethoven's genius, was strongly influenced by the older composer's exampleand to some extent by his style and manner of writing - at all events in his instrumentalmusic (for he can hardly have felt himself to be a disciple of anybody in the sphere ofsong). For example, in 1800 Beethoven had written his hugely successful Septet, to which,24 years later when the opportunity arose, Schubert responded with an Octet that ina" respects outstripped its evident model. By 1805, however, Beethoven had writtenand published nine of his ten Violin Sonatas; and the last of the series, the serenelybeautiful and deeply original G major, Opus 96,though written a few years earlier, reached print in 1816 - the very year of Schubert'sfirst three. Yet in these three works - and in their few successors - Schubert writes asthough Beethoven did not exist; to all intents and purposes these are violin sonatas ofthe older, Mozartian type, with the violin still playing a somewhat subordinate role tothat of the pianoforte.
This observation applies most to the first, D major, sonata,which for all its simple attractions makes a somewhat artless effect. In the two followingsonatas, the A minor, D. 385 and the G minor, D. 408, the choice of the minor key seems tohave more evidently stimulated the young composer's imagination: the A minor piece isespecially strong and interesting in its material and structure.
The last two of the series of violin-and-piano pieces, the Rondeau brillant in B minor, D. 895 and the Fantasy in C major, D. 934, belong to quite adifferent tradition, having been written in the last year of the composer's life for theyoung Czech violinist, Josef Slavik, who was described by Chopin as a second Paganini. TheFantasy is a long and elaborate composition in seven sections, the third of which is atheme and variations on a slightly modified form of the melody of the 1821 song, Sei mirgegr??sst. The song is popular, and its melodyboth voluptuous and striking; its inclusion seems to have lifted the whole composition onto quite another plane from that of its predecessors. The faint atmosphere of theschoolroom perceptible in the three early sonatas is here entirely dispelled; the generaleffect is warm, romantic, brilliant.
In the course of its seven movements, the Fantasy oscillates ina curious way between C major (in which it begins and ends), A minor and major, and thesoftly glowing A flat major, in which key Schubert writes the variations on hissong-theme. The piece as a whole has been criticisied for containing "a good share ofthat virtuoso element with which, since Hummel and Moscheies had settled in Vienna, allpiano composers in the capital were practically bound to identify themselves."Nevertheless, it seems to have fallen somewhat flat with its earliest audience. When itwas first performed by Slavik and Karl Maria von Bocklet in January 1828, a Viennesecritic wrote:
The Fantasy occupied rather too muchof the time a Viennese is prepared to devote to pleasures of the mind. The hall emptiedgradually, and the writer confesses that he too is unable to say anything about theconclusion of this piece of music.
"This must be almost the only occasion", drilycomments the late Professor Westrup, "on which a music critic has admitted that heleft before a piece was finished."
Hailed for his artistry, virtuosity and charismatic presence onstage, the Korean violinist Dong-Suk Kang enjoys an international career spanningperformances with major orchestras, at festivals and in solo recital. He first came to theattention of the concert-going public when he won both the San Francisco SymphonyCompetition and the Merriweather Post Competition in Washington, D.C., and subsequentlywent on to win top prizes in several international competitions. among them the Montreal,the Carl Flesch in London and the Queen Elizabeth in Brussels.
Since winning third prize in the Leeds International PianoCompetition and the Silver Medal in the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition inMoscow. Pascal Devoyon has developed his career by playing in Europe, the Far East andAmerica. He is a regular visitor to Japan where he has given many recitals and he has alsoworked on both sides of the Atlantic appearing with, among others, the London PhilharmonicOrchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit.