BACH; BUSONI; BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas (Shiokawa)
Is it really more than 15 years since the previous ECM collaboration between violinist Yuuko Shiokawa and her pianist husband András Schiff? One does not often hear the Bach violin sonatas with piano accompaniment these days, but Schiff’s firm legato phrasing in the first movement provides both foil and anchor for the florid understatement of Shiokawa’s contributions. If Schiff’s fussy emphasis of the Allegro main theme’s first note (and similar places) slightly thwarts the music’s jolly demeanour, the Adagio reveals a rare congruency between the piano’s right-hand chords and the violin’s double-stops, while the toccata-like finale is light and propulsive at the same time.
Although Busoni’s large-scale Violin Sonata No 2 remains on the repertoire’s fringes, it’s been surprisingly well served on disc, with quite a few divergent interpretations to consider. An earlier Gramophone critic described the slow first movement as mostly sombre and austere, yet the intimate, line-oriented transparency that Shiokawa and Schiff achieve casts the music in sunnier, more optimistic light. The Presto is a whirling tarantella but you wouldn’t know that from their sedate and soft-grained treatment; no match for the virtuoso flair and fiery inner core of the recording by Joseph Lin and Benjamin Loeb (Naxos, 10/07). The Andante is gorgeous and sensitively integrated; listen to how seamlessly Schiff picks up Shiokawa’s descending line at the end of bar 333, for example. The musicians unify the closing set of variations (based on a theme of Bach) with smooth transitions and assiduous tempo relationships, yet their held-back, over-pointed rhythms in the Alla marcia lack the abandon of the Enoksson/Stott traversal (BIS), and the closing Allegro yields to Zimmermann/Pace (Sony, 7/06) for joyful exultation.
The trilled main theme in the first movement of Beethoven’s G major Sonata may be self-consciously tapered (you can increasingly predict the effect as the music proceeds), yet the rarefied ensemble values cannot be denied. In the Adagio espressivo variations the plangent qualities of Schiff’s piano come into their own. (Is this an old Steinway or a Bosendörfer? No information is given.) The Scherzo gains nervous energy through sharp accents and minuscule accelerations, while the gemütlich geniality that Dumay and Pires (DG, 12/02) bring to the Poco allegretto contrasts with the Shiokawa/Schiff duo’s diverse articulations and phrase groupings. An attractive release, notwithstanding my quibbles, abetted by ECM’s customary sonic excellence and Misha Donat’s informative notes.