For their first inscription together, Perlman and Ax gloriously collaborate in two works new to the Perlman legacy.

FAURE: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 13; R. STRAUSS: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18 – Itzhak Perlman, v./ Emanuel Ax, p. – DGG B0023611-02, 53:52 (8/28/15) [Distr. by Universal] ****:

This recording (7-9 September 2014) represents a “debut” in several respects, since Perlman and Ax, having often appeared in recital, had never before made a recording together; and these sonatas represent major additions to the Perlman legacy. Given the seventieth-birthday acknowledgments for Itzhak Perlman, the disc maintains his reputation for tonal beauty and passionate involvement in the music he champions.

The 1876 Sonata in A by Gabriel Faure marks – in the words of admirer Saint-Saens – “the [composer’s] unimagined audacity as something quite normal. With this work Monsieur Faure takes his place among the masters.” The writing for both participants proves quite demanding, rife with broken octaves and dynamics that swell up in expressive ardor. Ax sets the tone immediately, Allegro molto, with a fulsome statement of the main theme, itself redolent of lyric and sensuous power. Once Perlman enters, the sense of an elastic, ever-evolving thematic line suffers no break, no disruption in the fluency of expression, especially since Faure modulates by way of modal vagaries. Many will compare this rendition to that of Perlman’s admitted idol, Jascha Heifetz.

The Andante proceeds in compound meter, weaving the two instruments together in a lyrical fabric quite magical. A mixture of melancholy and fervent anticipation, the music soars in the manner of a reverent plainchant. The intervening Scherzo sets up a witty contest between duple and triple measures, a carefree dance whose figures provide the music of the trio section. An irrepressible optimism suffuses the finale, Allegro quasi presto, in which Perlman’s towering tone finds a perfect vehicle. The melody seems to evolve from a kind of gavotte, the instruments in sweet tandem and conjunct harmony. Ax, too, presents us glistening scales and silken transitions between musical periods, his “responses” to Perlman’s top line often colossal yet restrained in that quite ineffable Faure style.

The 1887 Sonata in E-flat by Richard Strauss has a decidedly “operatic” character about it, often setting the two instruments as a concert aria or symphonic double concerto, with sudden thrusts of urgent emotion. Many will recall that Jascha Heifetz performed this work as part of his 1972 recital at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Ax performs some bold chords that recall the early power of the Op. 5 Piano Sonata. The dotted rhythmic kernel and its subsequent short note and triplet permeate the entire first movement. Perlman, on the other hand, proffers some majestic beauty and meditation of his own, his trump card always the immaculate sweetness of his sound.

The Improvisation middle movement clearly points to an instrumental aria meant to celebrate singer Pauline de Ahna, who became wife to Strauss. Ax does his best to turn his Yamaha CFX into a liquid entity. The darker middle section seems to claim the music of Schubert’s songs as a model, creating in the da capo a “garden” scene where two lovers may commune according to their romantic lights. The Finale: Andante – Allegro opens somewhat ominously in the keyboard, then becomes boldly narrative in style, with declamations and ardent, rising melodic phrases for Perlman. The level of blissful communion takes on a Wagnerian color. Heroic rapture has urged all past doubts and insecurities aside, and the two instruments close in rapt consummation.

This disc marks a fine first recorded collaboration, but at less than an hour of music, we might have appreciated some of the other, salon Faure works to fill out our expenditure.

—Gary Lemco