Martha Argerich/Itzhak Perlman – Works for Violin & Piano by SCHUMANN, BACH & BRAHMS – Warner Classics

by | Sep 20, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

Martha Argerich/Itzhak Perlman = SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 1 in a, Op. 105; Drei Fantasiestuecke for Piano and Violin, Op. 73; BRAHMS: Scherzo in c from F.A.E. Sonata; BACH: Violin and Keyboard Sonata in c, BWV 1017 –  Itzhak Perlman, v./ Martha Argerich, p. – Warner Classics 0190295937898, 50:58 (9/30/16) ****:

A great pairing in some lovely selections.

Assembled from two distinct venues, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Schumann, Op. 105, 30 July 1998) and Salle Colonne, Paris (29-31 March 2016), classical superstars Itzhak Perlman and Martha Argerich collaborate in music both familiar and unfamiliar to their respective repertory, the Brahms and the Bach sonata new to Martha Argerich. Having performed together in Saratoga, New York in 1998, the two artists had been eager to reunite, and the vivacious spontaneity of their recent recital proves infectious.

Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 (1851) casts an agitated veil in the course of its three movements, which betray something of the mental anxiety and obsession of the composer at this time.  Besides its famed recording by Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin (1937), the work found another acolyte in Szymon Goldberg. The first movement – to be played with “passionate expression” – remains relatively subdued: the music smolders rather than explodes. Perlman has opportunities to exploit his G string in hefty colors, sometimes urging the darker tones to embrace the viola’s tessitura. The Allegretto turns into an F Major/f minor intermezzo, autumnal and nostalgic. The more animated passages remind us of Schumann the freer spirit of the earlier piano music, perhaps more gypsy-style.  Perlman and Argerich imbue the movement with an intimate dolor. The last movement wants to embrace a perpetual motion energy, augmented by Bach polyphony. Mendelssohn scherzos may have had their influence here. Out of the canonic writing a lovely tune in the key of E Major emerges, though Schumann prefers the jabbing accents that drive the music forward. The recapitulation becomes interesting when Schumann brings back his first movement theme, reaching for A Major, but soon succumbing to the emotional, driving turbulence that has hovered over the work since its inception.

Schumann’s salon Three Fantasy-Pieces (1849) mean to be realized by the clarinet and piano, but string players have claimed the works for themselves. In ternary form, each has its song, and the first is set in a minor, to be played “Softly with expression.” Both Perlman and Argerich are intent to make delicate colors and diaphanous fabric in the first two pieces, the second of which is in A Major, to be played “lively, light.” The keyboard part occasionally echoes parts of Kinderszenen. The final movement, “Quickly and with fire,” sallies forth in A Major, often combining motifs from the two earlier movements. One could argue for the Florestan/Eusebius duality in this piece, given the poetic transition into F Major. Delicate in the violin part, the piano part often surges with pent-up emotion that seeks to extend its hegemony beyond Schumann’s deliberately terse thematic fragments.

I first heard the Scherzo in c minor (1853) by Brahms – his contribution to the group effort of him, Schumann, and Albert Dietrich – in a performance by Yehudi Menuhin, so its passionate fire comes as no surprise. It was Isaac Stern who introduced me to the entire F.A.E. Sonata.  Perlman and Argerich seem to have waited for the music’s middle section to emote as few can. The outer sections bristle with excitement and the impatience of a youthful composer who enjoys the scherzo as a natural outlet for primal emotions, which he would later eschew for more “polite” intermezzi.

J.S. Bach conceived six sonatas in Leipzig, BWV 1014-1019, and the c minor remains an affecting vehicle in the “church sonata” style. The opening movement – Siciliano: Largo – anticipates the powerful “Erbarme dich” alto aria in the St. Matthew Passion.  The chromatic line pulsates with devout intimacy. The ensuing Allegro cavorts in fugal counterpoint, and collectors may recall how much Jaime Laredo and Glenn Gould savored this music. The Adagio offers a lovely cantilena in C Major that flows in a kind a ethereal tracery, an arioso chorale prelude. The last movement Allegro resorts to Bach’s great gift for rhythmic energy, with the two instruments interchanging polyphonic figures and energy in joyfully spontaneous harmony.

—Gary Lemco

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