SCHUMANN Violin Sonatas (Maalismaa & Holmström)
Schumann’s symphonies, concertos and piano trios are now fairly well represented in the catalogue in recordings that opt for period instruments. Less so the violin sonatas, so this new Finnish recording on a gut-strung Bellosio/Gagliano from c1770 and an Érard from 1862 would be welcome even if the playing and interpretation were not of such a high standard. These players, however, although perhaps less well known outside their native country, are well versed in performance on these recalcitrant beasts from another era and, indeed, founded a festival to explore Romantic music on the instruments of the time.
Perhaps the revelations are less pronounced in this music than in the larger-scale works. Nevertheless, violin and piano combine here within a particularly beguiling halo of sound, the players’ instincts allowing each to come to the fore or subtly retreat as each moment requires. Opening with the stark chords of the Second Sonata, the acoustic initially seems to report rather than envelop, in a manner not dissimilar to the recording by Carolin Widmann and Dénes Várjon – and with a similar use of vibrato as an expressive device rather than a blanket sound strategy. As the textures and rhythms thicken, however, the sound becomes more warmly atmospheric.
The piano ‘rings’ through those opening chords and, for all its relative lack of sustain, offers a throaty tone in the more richly written music. It’s a creature of variety, though, and the quieter playing is particularly affecting. The slow movement of the Second – its pizzicato opening unlike pretty much anything else in this repertory – is rather special, the violin’s plucked gut retaining just enough resonance to provide a touching foil to the delicacy of the keyboard part.
Intonation is just about faultless and the engagement of the two players in interpretative matters is palpable throughout. The First and Third Sonatas in that order follow the Second to create a viable concert sequence. A valuable project and an intensely pleasurable disc.