SCHUMANN: Complete Violin Sonatas – Ulf Wallin, violin/ Roland Pöntinen, piano – BIS multichannel SACD 1784, 74:06 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:
Schumann’s three violin sonatas were all composed in a relatively short space of time–the first and second done a few months apart in 1852, while the third, culled from the collaborative efforts of Brahms and Albert Dietrich, but then merged with two new movements, a couple of years later.
Clara and Brahms, for reasons not really known even today, dropped the second sonata from their active repertories, and eventually Clara withdrew the third, which had to wait until 1956 to make its international appearance. All three suffer from the “Brahms effect”, meaning that they have been determined to be substandard in light of the later master’s three sonatas, but this is to misunderstand and misjudge Schumann’s efforts. In fact they are every bit the equal of Brahms, and even rely on a tad more intellectual effort before their romantic passions come storming home in full swing. Brahms, for all his wonders and beautifully constructed lines, is much more emotionally reserved, shackled by his classical constraints. That’s not a criticism—it’s what makes Brahms Brahms, and we love him for it. Schumann explodes in his sonatas while retaining an even more complex developmental process.
This is hands down the most impressive readings of these sonatas to ever come my way, and the last three years have brought more than 10 new sets to my desk. Swedish violinist Ulf Wallin nails these pieces in a way that few do with his richly resonant sound and powerful bowing, while pianist Roland Pöntinen plays with extreme affection and romantic passion, something that Ferdinand David and Clara Schumann would surely appreciate. The terrific SACD sound gives bloom to this passion in full métier, and anyone looking for a first or even only recording of these works need look no further.
This is a winning foray into soul jazz.