BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100; Violin Sonata No. 3 in d minor, Op. 108; SCHUMANN: 3 Romances, Op. 94; DIETRICH-SCHUMANN-BRAHMS: Violin Sonata “F-A-E” – Isabelle Faust, v./ Alexander Melnikov, p. – Harmonia mundi HMC 902219, 77:51 (10/9/15) ****: 

The most immediate item in this collection (rec. September 2014), besides Isabelle’s sweet intonation on her 1704 “Sleeping Beauty” Stradivarius lies in the musical curio, the 1853 collaboration shared by Albert Dietrich (1829-1908), Schumann and Brahms, the so-called “F-A-E” Sonata meant as a party gift for violinist Joseph Joachim.  Collectors will recall Isaac Stern and Alexander Zakin’s having recorded this amalgam composition for CBS some fifty years ago. A well-wrought piece, the first movement, by Dietrich, adheres to the classical sonata-form structure while incorporating the frei-aber-einsam motif essential to the Brahms ethos of spiritual isolation. Schumann’s little F Major Intermezzo brings an insouciant charm to the work, as does his potent finale, rife with hints of his own d minor Violin Concerto.  The third movement, a C Minor Allegro invests a decisive departure in spirit, aggressive, boldly decisive.  Faust brings her tonal poignancy to this – in fact, all – the works on this album, a zesty affection that never lacks for lyric tenderness. Melnikov’s instrument, an 1875 Bosendorfer, likewise contributes an old-world charm to the sound picture, especially in the “Thun” Sonata by Brahms.

Throughout this recital, intimacy of expression remains the dominant affect. Meant to complement Faust’s 2007 inscription of the G Major Sonata of Brahms, this disc provides the A Major and d minor, each accorded its own reflective ethos.  Both Faust and Melnikov can play forcefully when required, but their declamations evolve with a demure restraint that I associate with my old preferred readings by Szigeti and Horszowski. The icing on this fine cake appears in the form of the Three Romances by Schumann, composed in 1849 as a Christmas gift to Clara. Typical of Schumann’s genius for emotional compression, with enigmatic hints as programmatic reference, these piece sound effectively in the violin mode as they do when realized on the oboe.  Faust’s wiry tone in the first yields to a fuller, more plaintive effect in the second of these poetic raptures, marked appropriately, Einfach, innig. The last, Nicht schnell, proves plaintive in dark hues, introspective and personal in the same way that the Brahms works on this disc convey a precious moment to all principals.

—Gary Lemco