Schumann - Bach - Brahms (CD review)

Martha Argerich, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin. Warner Classics 0190295937898.

What do you get when you pair two of the world's greatest classical artists--Martha Argerich and Itzhak Perlman--on the same album?

You get beautiful music.

Interestingly, both artists were born just a few years apart, and both artists came to prominence at about the same time in the late Fifties and Sixties. So their careers sort of parallel one another. And, of course, both artists have won numerous awards and competitions and produced countless albums. It's a pleasure hearing them work together on the present disc.

The first thing up on the program, the Sonata for piano and violin No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), is a piece they recorded live in Saratoga, NY in 1998. It was also the first time they had ever performed together. Although the title tells us it's a piece for piano and violin (and the accompanying booklet tells us it's "a duo of equals"), it's really the violin that tends to dominate the work. As always, Perlman never showboats or inflates the score; while he is a consummate artist with virtuosic skills, he is also a fairly conservative musician who never allows his own playing to upstage the music. Thus, with fine, if somewhat studied accompaniment from Ms. Argerich, the score comes off in fine style, with Romantic, and slightly dark, overtones but never sentimentalized. The pair end it in on a stormy yet vibrant note.

The next three selections the performers recorded more recently, 2016, in Paris and without an audience. These begin with Schumann's Drei Fantasiestucke for piano and violin, Op. 73 ("Three Fantasy Pieces for piano and violin"). These works have a more lyrical quality than the sonata and are more cheerful in their countenance. Perlman and Argerich play them with an appropriate sweetness.

Martha Argerich & Itzhak Perlman
Next is the Scherzo in C minor from the F-A-E Sonata, Wo02, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Here, we find a more-ardent piece of music that Brahms wrote as a young man (at the suggestion of Schumann). Here, too, Ms. Argerich's piano plays an even more-dominant part in the proceedings. The result is not earthshaking, but it is fun and fiery in its way.

The final and longest item on the agenda is the four-movement Sonata for keyboard and violin No. 4 in C minor, BWV 1017, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Of course, Bach would have used a harpsichord, but times change. After the Romantics Schumann and Brahms, we might have expected a far different classical Bach, yet Perlman and Argerich tend to give us more of a nineteenth-century interpretation than an eighteenth-century one. It all sounds very refined and well polished, with Ms. Argerich taking a more-commanding part in the second-movement Allegro. While both performers are as polished as ever, they also exude a rhythmic charm and vitality that is quite beguiling.

Producers Patti Laursen and Daniel Zalay and balance engineers John Dunkerley and Hughes Deschaux recorded the music live at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, New York State in July 1998 (Schumann Sonata) and sans audience at the Salle Colonne, Paris in March 2016.

My guess is that Warner Classics did their best to make the two recordings, live and studio, sound as much alike as possible. So, in the first selection--the live Schumann sonata--the sonics are warm and smooth, with virtually no background noise. Still, during the silent moments, one feels the presence of the audience. It's of no concern, really, so the music comes through realistically, if a tad close-up.

The more-recent, non-live performances are even warmer and smoother than the live one, these later recordings sounding equally close-up. Nevertheless, the balance is lifelike, with both performers appearing as one might hear them from the first rows. Ultimate transparency, however, is a bit diminished by the relative softness of the sound. Still, it's all very easy to like, which is the main thing.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa