Recorded live at Merkin Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, 7-10 April 2004, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott bring their usual intensity to a diverse set of pieces, of which the Sonata by Francis Poulenc (c. 1942; rev. 1949) is most fierce and mercurial. Dedicated to the memory of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the sonata alternates angry, acerbic, trenchant riffs with lyrical nostalgia, and the second movement overtly declares itself of Spanish and Moorish blood, headed by a Lorca quotation: “The guitar makes dreams weep.” The work had its premier with the composer and its inspiritor, violinist Ginette Neveu. Salerno-Sonnenberg achieves a poignant intimacy in this movement; we feel we are privy to a meditation of elegiac beauty. The last movement, for all its fervent energy, betrays those touches of breezy, boulevard devil-may-care which characterize Poulenc’s ethos. The piano part becomes quite aggressive, and the violin’s agonized tessitura even threatens to invoke Janacek or Webern, its idiosyncratic ending leaving the audience puzzled as to whether applause is required.
The program opens with Schubert’s elegant Rondeau (1827), a piece Joseph Szigeti and Yehudi Menuhin favored in their day and which Franco Gulli cultivated with equal ardor. The piece asks for some impressive technical effects from Salerno-Sonneberg, and her wiry, rasping tone recalls the aforementioned Szigeti in several respects. Both impish and classically poised, the music ultimately resolves the tensions between major and minor modalities with high- strung vivacity. The Beethoven, too, emanates all kinds of nervous excitement, as though the violin were sometimes singing over an abyss. Typical of Beethoven’s C Minor excursions, lyrical outpourings dramatically confront potentially disruptive impulses. Salerno-Sonnenberg lays on the rubato and the vibrato with a liberal hand, although she can use the tip of the bow with a demure refinement. Wonderful equality of instrumental parts rules, and we can feel the extension of the originally conventional sonata medium into something willfully organic and explosive. Salerno-Sonnnenberg projects a winning cantilena in the second movement. Even the ordinarily lighthearted Scherzo becomes a sizzling spellbinder in her hands. She does apply a less overt passion upon the finale, although Ms. McDermott’s piano part seethes with Promethean fire, making the last page hazardous to Philistines’ health. Heuberger’s waltz is Viennese schlagobers – all whipped cream. The Bach is scintillating finesse, deft filigree held in plastic tension.
No formal liner note indication of bands or timings does not help, but the entire presentation gears itself to invoke your feeling of spontaneous music-making of the highest order. The disc ends with a series of tiny outtakes, some bits of humor and musical candor most congenial.
— Gary Lemco