Shea-Kim Duo: All Roads – Violin/Piano music of Beethoven, Schumann, Schnittke, Beach – Blue Griffin

by | Jun 27, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

all Roads = BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major; SCHNITTKE: Suite in the Old Style; SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 1; BEACH: Romance – Brenda Shea, violin/Yerin Kim, piano – Blue Griffin BGR643 (58:30) [Distr. by Albany]****: 

To paraphrase the liner notes describing the intentions of this album (rec. March 2022), all roads, even by ways, lead to Vienna, especially in the medium of the violin-piano sonata. To explore the diversity of musical styles bearing the original, Viennese impulse lies at the heart of this diverse program of composers, none of whom is a Vienna product but whose musical affinities reveal the influence of that seminal cultural capital.

The Shea-Kim Duo opens with Beethoven’s 1798 Sonata in E-flat Major, the third of a set inscribed to be realized by “fortepiano and violin,” given Beethoven’s own keyboard authority and his desire to provide vehicles demonstrating equality between the two instruments. The initial thrust, Allegro con spirito, conveys an assertive, muscular authority, featuring heroic runs and potent chordal progressions in the keyboard. Still, a distinct, salon charm and light finesse shines through the secondary theme. Late in the development section, the violin assumes some of the punctuated power of the keyboard part. The heart of the work, a tranquil Adagio con molta espessione, means to convey Italian lyricism. Commentator Abram Loft invoked poetic terms for this music, calling it “a lovely bouquet, fragrant with gracious melody and luxuriant turns and roulades.” Singing over a foundation of lush piano arpeggios, Shea’s violin intones a timeless sense of spatial serenity, interrupted near the coda by an impassioned outburst. The last movement, Rondo: Allegro molto, frolics with an earthbound ditty that soon gathers Beethoven’s patented momentum, altering dynamics and registration to keep our ears and tapping feet alert.

The second visitor to the musical Mecca of Vienna is Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), whose Suite in the Old Style for Violin and Piano dates from 1972. The opening Pastorale: Moderato projects a parlando simplicity we associate with Schubert, Kreisler, or even Grieg. A Russian of Jewish descent, Schnittke lived in Germany and studied in Vienna. The coda of the opening piece exhibits Shea’s control in an extended trill. The brief Ballet: Allegro offers a spunky scherzo spiked and slick phrases, emphatically stated. The Minuet: Tempo di Minuetto enjoys a delicate scoring that invokes harp sonorities, transparent and imitative of Gluck or a courtly salon. With the fourth movement Fugue: Allegro, we clearly enter a hall dominated by a sprightly J.S. Bach, intoned in raspy, incisively clarion tones. The last movement, Pantomime: Andantino seems to invoke, in the manner of Stravinsky, the Baroque or Renaissance sensibility of the Commedia dell’arte, a courtly irony. The staccato, martial pace of the middle section, colored by dissonances, proves arresting before the inevitable return to court refinement.

We return to the Romantic period, with Robert Schumann’s 1851 Violin Sonata in A Minor, fraught with the influence of J.S. Bach in the use of canonic imitation. The “learned” elements, however, in no way diminish Schumann’s passionate expressiveness, economically dominated by recurrent rhythmic impulses, in the manner of Beethoven. The first movement virtually throbs with visceral emotion, Shea’s tone piercing, ardent, and alluring in a manner reminiscent of Szymon Goldberg. The repetitions of melodic fragments increase the hypnotic urgency of the occasion.

Schumann relents in the second movement’s relative respite from the sheer intensity of the moment, offering a lyrical Allegretto in ternary form. But here, too, brief spasms of anguish appear in the minor mode, only to find solace once more in the folkish melody canonic, scalar motives of emotional drive in Schumann’s own voice. The performance remains well articulated, colorful in phrase and impulsive contour. As we approach the coda, a poised sense of dramatic closure embraces the motifs of the first movement in Schumann’s patented, cyclic gambit. 

The Shea-Kim Duo closes with a Romance by American composer Amy Beach (1867-1944), which perhaps serves the same function, emotionally, if our players had opted for a similar vehicle from Clara Schumann. Warmly affectionate, the long, unbroken cantilena achieves a resonant moment of passion, without having resorted to Wagnerian histrionics. The last pages invoke oceanic images, not necessarily Viennese, but ardently universal in appeal.

—Gary Lemco

Shea-Kim Duo: All Roads

BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 12/3;
SCHNITTKE: Suite in the Old Style for Violin and Piano;
SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 105;
BEACH: Romance for Violin and Piano, Op. 23

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Album Cover for Shea-Kim Duo, All Roads