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Schumann: The Violin Sonatas


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Schumann: The Violin Sonatas + Schubert: Fantasy in C major / Rondo in B minor / Sonata in A major + Morton Feldman: Violin and Orchestra
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Product details

  • Performer: Denes Varjon
  • Composer: Robert Schumann
  • Audio CD (31 Dec 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ECM New Series
  • ASIN: B001AVUAC6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 84,525 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Sonata No 1 in A minor, op.105 - I Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck
2. II Allegretto
3. III Lebhaft
4. Sonata No 3 in A minor, WoO 2 - I Ziemlich langsam
5. II Intermezzo. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
6. III Lebhaft
7. IV Finale. Markiertes, ziemlich lebhaftes Tempo
8. Sonata No 2 in D minor, op. 121 - I Ziemlich langsam
9. II Sehr lebhaft
10. III Leise, einfach
11. IV Bewegt

Product Description

Product Description

The German-Hungarian duo of two hugely accomplished young musicians gives its ECM debut with a gripping rendering of Schumann's three violin sonatas. Written in the difficult last years of the composer's life, these demanding works mirror his existential conflicts in a fascinating way. While the first two sonatas are quite frequently heard in concert, the third was held back by Clara Schumann after her husband's death and only published in a reliable edition a few years ago. These vivid interpretations, recorded in the great acoustics of Lugano radio studio are marked by an immense array of tonal hues and extraordinary ensemble qualities. Widmann: "This is music where the performers have to develop an enormous amount of imagination, since in Schumann the black dots on white paper never convey the full content of the music. Every note is different and every bar needs a new inflexion. You can do justice to this expressiveness only if you go to the limits and challenge routine wherever you can." Munich-born Carolin Widmann won several international prizes before her appointment as professor at Musikhochschule Leipzig in 2006. Increasingly in demand as a soloist, she's an outstanding interpreter of contemporary music with composers such as Wolfgang Rihm, Matthias Pintscher, Erkki-Sven Tüür and her brother Jörg Widmann writing new works for her. Her debut CD of solo works by Ysaye, Boulez, Sciarrino and Widmann won the German Record Critic's prize in 2006. She makes her BBC Proms debut this month with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon studied with legendary mentors Ferenc Rados and Gyorgy Kurtag and attended Andras Schiff's masterclasses. He's been assistant professor at the Liszt Music Academy in Budapest since 1994. A regular guest with major festivals and orchestras, he's also a dedicated chamber music player and often collaborates with Heinz Holliger and Jorg Widmann. Personnel: Carolin Widmann (violin), Denes Varjon (piano)

Review

(4/5 stars) Fascinating pieces, unfairly neglected in the concert hall...it is bracing to hear them played together so insightfully here. -- The Sunday Times, (Paul Driver), November 2, 2008

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By J. F. Laurson on 4 May 2009
Format: Audio CD
Before receiving ECM's new disc of the three Schumann Violin Sonatas, I'd almost forgotten how wonderful these works are. Violinist Carolin Widmann (sister to the clarinetist/composer Jörg Widmann) reminds me vividly and energetically of that fact. There is no dearth of recordings, but no glut, either. For one, you really want a complete set of them--including the Third Sonata, (new Grove says WoO27, the Bärenreiter and Schott Urtext scores say WoO2), not just opp. 105 and 121. The last work Schumann composed before he decomposed three years later, it's a sonata spotted with inspired, echt-Schumann moments. It took its final shape when Schumann added two more movements to the two (second and fourth movement) that he had already contributed to the "FAE-Sonata"--the sonata that he, Brahms (third movement), and Albert Dietrich (first movement) co-wrote for the birthday of Joseph Joachim.

Widmann and pianist Dénes Várjon are not household names, although collectors of Hungaroton releases might be familiar with the latter as part of the Takács Piano Trio and piano partner of Miklós Perényi. This recording shows Widmann and Várjon as fabulous musicians who are--particularly important in this repertoire--very well matched. Fleet and spunky, finding a good balance between assertive and lyrical, without overdoing either, Carolin Widmann navigates through sonatas every bit as securely as colleagues Marwood, Kremer, Faust & Co.

Gidon Kremer, who recorded the first two sonatas with Martha Argerich (DG), floats above the music, his slightly abbreviated phrases and beautifully contained violin sound seemingly unconcerned by gravity.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By P. H. Smith on 10 Jan 2009
Format: Audio CD
These new performances of the Schumann violin sonatas have been highly rated in reviews and no wonder; they are outstanding in every way. The rapt playing by both performers and attention to detail are entrancing and cannot be faulted, neither can the quality of the recording. Some occasionally intrusive gasping by (I think) the violinist has to be mentioned but this hardly detracts from the overall impression. These are late works of course, the third sonata, written when the composer was on the verge of his final breakdown, being rarely heard and hard to comprehend. The other two works are undoubted masterpieces. I have no reservations about recommending this CD.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Classical Musician on 19 July 2011
Format: Audio CD
As a professional violinist, I particularly admire Schumann's Violin Sonatas for the simple fact that, together with Brahms, they represent a pinnacle of romantic violin writing within the sonata genre. By that I mean that the complex shifts of mood that accompany the motivic material in these pieces have to be performed with such a depth of understanding and an almost psychological underpinning that they truly begin to acquire an epic status (despite the modesty of the medium).

Having performed the Sonata in A minor, I can tell you from personal experience that these pieces are just as technically challenging as Brahms' Violin Sonatas - the D minor Sonata even more so I would say. In order to do these works justice one has to be aware of the romantic yearning and passion inherent in the melodic material and the piano accompaniment, but at the same time also not fall into the trap of playing the work as some kind of 'Brahms-Lite' sonata. I have heard so many performances where the two players decide to either ride roughly over Schumann's delicately nuanced score and present it as a kind of late Romantic-fest, or to underplay the piece in order to convince the listener that these works in fact belong to the Schubertian era.

To cut a long story short, the recording by Carolin Widmann and Denes Varjon manages to create a wonderfully intelligent middle path between the two extremes mentioned above. Here there is passion, yearning, delicacy and a very impressive range of colour which I have rarely heard elsewhere. Both players confront the epic D minor Sonata with bravado and they were beginning to convince me that this piece is truly one of the greatest violin sonatas ever written, such is the conviction of the playing.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul101 on 9 April 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a very calming, almost wistful set of works - you can feel the sense of melancholy in the writing and playing. The first sonata is very easy to get into with a melodic hook in the first movement that is so beautiful it gets stuck in your head! The recording is nice but perhaps not the most crisp and clear that I have heard although the sound is warm. Occassionally it feels as if the violin and piano are competing for the same space on the recording but always the melodies shine through. There is a lot of music on the CD and I find it suits late night listening - perfect for relaxing and reflecting at the end of a busy day.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Excellence with an Edge 4 May 2009
By J. F. Laurson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Before receiving ECM's new disc of the three Schumann Violin Sonatas, I'd almost forgotten how wonderful these works are. Violinist Carolin Widmann (sister to the clarinetist/composer Jörg Widmann) reminds me vividly and energetically of that fact. There is no dearth of recordings, but no glut, either. For one, you really want a complete set of them--including the Third Sonata, (new Grove says WoO27, the Bärenreiter and Schott Urtext scores say WoO2), not just opp. 105 and 121. The last work Schumann composed before he decomposed three years later, it's a sonata spotted with inspired, echt-Schumann moments. It took its final shape when Schumann added two more movements to the two (second and fourth movement) that he had already contributed to the "FAE-Sonata"--the sonata that he, Brahms (third movement), and Albert Dietrich (first movement) co-wrote for the birthday of Joseph Joachim.

Widmann and pianist Dénes Várjon are not household names, although collectors of Hungaroton releases might be familiar with the latter as part of the Takács Piano Trio and piano partner of Miklós Perényi. This recording shows Widmann and Várjon as fabulous musicians who are--particularly important in this repertoire--very well matched. Fleet and spunky, finding a good balance between assertive and lyrical, without overdoing either, Carolin Widmann navigates through sonatas every bit as securely as colleagues Marwood, Kremer, Faust & Co.

Gidon Kremer, who recorded the first two sonatas with Martha Argerich (DG), floats above the music, his slightly abbreviated phrases and beautifully contained violin sound seemingly unconcerned by gravity. Underneath him (sonically, though not interpretively) Argerich is her tempestuous best, bursting out at the seams, eager and independent minded. The sonatas becomes two stories, Kremer's and Argarich's, and it's ever titillating. Tempos change from one second to another, and movements like the third of op.105 ("Lively") run along like mice on tip-toes. It's a terrific way to interpret Schumann and even "incomplete" that disc should be on every well-stocked Schumann shelf.

Isabelle Faust and Silke Avenhaus on CPO offer all three sonatas and excellent performances, making it the ECM disc's primary competition. Like Kremer, Faust has a tendency towards clipped phrases, but her touch is not as soft as Kremer's which gives her consistently fast readings a trace of aggression and restlessness. No one plays the 2nd movement of op.121 so fast, though Widmann and Várjon come close and are even more rhythmically incisive. The dry acoustic allows for all details to come out, the balance between the instruments is perfectly even.

Compared to those accounts, Maria Egelhof and Mathias Weber (Thorofon) sound merely competent and sometimes even flatfooted (better in op.121 than op.105), as do Alban Beikircher and Benedikt Koehlen (ArteNova), who, however, delight with a stunning slow movement in op.121, the closely recorded pizzicato beginning being particularly delightful.

Widmann/Várjon meanwhile are a more cohesive unit than any of the couples above. They are the most flexible with tempos, allowing themselves time to indulge (3rd movement of op.105 or 1st movement of op.121) and really stepping on it, too (2nd movement of op.121, Scherzo of WoO2). Widmann's tone is particularly soft, her touch more supple even than Kremer's. When fortissimo is asked for, she remains sonorous with no hint of screeching. And for the gorgeous third movement of op.121, they have something truly special in store. It begins with Carlolin Widmann's pizzicato that barely sounds like pizzicato and more like a spiccato sulla tastiera. It's the most gentle way you'll ever hear this movement opened--slow, but melodious and with a forward momentum that gracelessly plucked notes could never muster. According to Widmann, who is very fond of exploring new ways of treating pizzicatos lovingly, that movement started out as a casual after-Dinner jam session but was surreptitiously recorded by Manfred Eicher who sensed that something beautiful was going on. It was, said Widmann, a moment of music-making that comes very rarely; that it doesn't get any better that. She was talking about the moment itself, but the same could be said about the result.

Coincidentally it's also the movement that works best in the resonant, not to say cavernous, Auditorio Radio Svizzera in Lugano. The acoustic is delightful bordering lush to these ears--for the most part. Friends of a dry acoustic, though, might find the natural reverb of the ECM recording to be testing their limits. Both instruments come to the ears from a little further back than the closer recorded recordings of Kremer & Faust.

It's my favorite recording of these works now, but it's not perfect. What I find somewhat objectionable is the soft rumble in the bass that's caused by every stomped foot, heavily pressed pedal, and every soundly rung low note on the piano. These low, ambient sounds feel as if someone upstairs ran about barefoot. On headphones that's not a problem, nor at low levels, but with bass-rich speakers at neighbor-unfriendly levels it can be rather distracting. Fortunately that's but a small caveat in light of all the goodness contained on this disc.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
compared with Kremer and Argerich 9 April 2009
By Y. Dai - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
First I have to say that I am a layman of classical music although I own many classical music CDs. So my comment is clearly not from an expert.
I have already owned Kremer and Argerich's version of Schumann's violin sonatas. However, upon hearing the sampler of this CD, I did not hesitate to buy it. Compared with this CD, Kremer and Argerich's version is clearly too coarse to be labeled as maestros' work. In that version, piano and violin seem to fight with each other fiercely. I don't think Schumann's work needs to be played like that. Widmann's version is clearly more sublime and refined. It reminds me of the similarity between the style of these violin sonatas and that of Schumann's piano work. So if Schumann formed a coherent style, then Widmann's version is clearly more consistent with what the composer wanted to express.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Simply outstanding 12 Jun 2011
By Kevin Troy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is an excellent recording of fantastically good music. The give-and-take between Varjon and Widmann is musical collaboration at its best. Can't recommend highly enough to anyone who's interested in romantic-era chamber music -- whether you've never listened to classical music or are a well-versed afficionado.
They take chances! 15 May 2014
By P. Kelley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This performance is outstanding on many levels, but what is so remarkable is how the pianist and violinist seem to have such an innate understanding of Schumann's musical idiom. The playing is passionate, even frenzied, but never out of control. While I sometimes wish the hall weren't so live, after a while you get used to it. It is certainly not a cover for sloppiness by any measure.

Listen to the slow movement of the D minor sonata. The day before he died the emaciated Schumann, who had refused all food up until then, agreed to take some wine which he gently licked from his wife Clara's fingers. As he did so, he managed to say to her, "I know you." This moment of unbearable tenderness is captured perfectly here.
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Where Has This Been All My Life? 13 May 2009
By Moldyoldie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is my long-delayed introduction to these works, and if the performances found on this 2008 release from the now-venerable ECM label are an indication, it's a wonder why these haven't been more popular or widely propagated in the vast Schumann discography. There has seemingly been a spate of new recordings released in the past decade, so perhaps the situation is being rectified. All three sonatas were composed within a brief three-year period (1851-3) late in the emotionally troubled composer's life. Sonata No. 3 actually consists partially of two movements originally supplied by Schumann as part of a conglomerate work for violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim and whose remaining two movements were supplied by Brahms and the young Albert Dietrich. Schumann later appended two additional movements to his original two, but apparently the completed No. 3 was never published until the 1950s!

Without getting into specific descriptions, the aggregate vibe across the three works is surprisingly affirmatory with a wonderfully varied, formally uncontained, yet thoroughly exhilarating Romantic expression that's unmistakably Schumannesque! The performances by Widmann and Várjon are exemplary in their balance and barely controlled exuberance while projecting a most satisfying emotional ebb and flow. The recording is intimate -- close enough to hear Widmann's breath and Várjon's coaxing of the piano pedals -- but not so dry as to not allow for a marvelously complementing aural warmth. Probably the most ear-catching moments are heard in the beautiful "Leise, einfach" third movement of the Sonata No. 2, introduced by the most ghostly soft pizzicato plucking (so soft and subtle that one might imagine the notes were generated by barely rendered col legno bow hits!) followed by its meltingly disarming melody. This is one beautiful recording which I've been playing at least twice daily since I first unwrapped it!

One of the things characteristic of this Widmann/Várjon recording, which may either be a virtue or fault depending on one's sensibility, is its seeming uniformity; i.e., not swaying too far tempo-wise from an overall agreeable median across its entire 70+ minutes. Having sampled the competing Faust/Avenhaus recording on CPO (Schumann: Violin Sonatas 1-3), I can say that some of the latter's fast movements are noticeably headlong, perhaps providing more overt variance in tempo from movement to movement, if that's what the listener desires.
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