I once had an English professor who, whenever he loved a poem, would shout out “sheer playfulness!” I can think of no better term to describe these excellent performances of Schubert’s works for violin and piano. While the Sonata in A doesn’t ascend to the heights of lyrical pathos that the piano trios or late string quartets do, it is full of sweet sentiments alternating with puckish invention. When you listen to the famous dissonant chords the piano plays in the Allegro Vivace, you know that Schubert must have had a glorious time amusing patrons at a “Shubertiad,” preferably at a home filled with fawning daughters. In the Fantasy in C, he starts out slow and reverentially, and three minutes later breaks into a rollicking dance theme. The Andantino features clever variations on his own song, Sei mir gegrusst. The interplay between the violin pizzicatos and the piano’s demisemiquavers is impressive. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect otherwise.
Arnold Steinhardt is a world-class violinist, best known as the first violin of the Guarneri String Quartet. And pianist Seymour Lipkin, a conductor for years, recently released a recording of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas to critical acclaim. Their most impressive work on this collection is their rendition of Schubert’s deceptively titled Sonatinas. Misnamed by a publisher wanting to exploit their ease-of-play, these three pieces are not trifles: they are full-blooded sonatas with marvelous melodies and fleeting glimmers of darkness. Sonatina No. 3, for example, opens with strutting confidence, then scratches the surface of despair in the Andante, aided by Mr. Lipkin’s dash of rubato. As in a sonata by Haydn, nothing gets too serious, and the Menuetto returns to the festive atmosphere. A delicately melodic Allegro, a twinge of regret, then a conclusion of sheer playfulness.
— Peter Bates