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Julia Fischer Embarks on Schubert

available at Amazon
Schubert, Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1, J. Fischer, M. Helmchen

(released on September 29, 2009)
PentaTone PTC 5186 347

Online scores:
Three Sonatinas for Violin and Piano (op. 137) | Rondo Brillant (D. 895)
Under most circumstances a new recording from Julia Fischer would recommend itself. Her latest project for PentaTone, the first half of a projected two-disc set of Schubert's music for violin and piano, arrived on my desk with the memory of the Schubert recording by Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr still fresh in my ears. Indeed, comparison to that disc, made on an early 19th-century violin and pianoforte, is inevitable in that Fischer's first volume, made on her 1742 Guadagnini violin and a Steinway played by Martin Helmchen, features almost the same selection of early pieces (with only the Rondo Brillant, D. 895, replacing the A major sonata, D. 574). Certainly, it would be wrong-headed to prefer the Manze-Egarr recording only because they played the works on historical instruments in an attempt to grapple with the sounds that Schubert had at hand. The problem for me is that the sound they made, its delicacy and transparency, quickly became the standard for these works, at least in my ears.

If pressed to recommend a single recording of these works to own, my tendency would be still to go with Manze-Egarr. That being said, Julia Fischer is the better violinist and she and Helmchen form a solid team in terms of ensemble unity. His discs for PentaTone are my first experience hearing him play, although I have been reading about him lately -- some more thoughts about the way he plays Schubert shortly. Both he and Fischer often restrain their sound as if in imitation of 19th-century instruments, just without the occasional clunkiness and odd intonation. The greater facility is quite noticeable, with those movement timings that are not basically the same as Manze-Egarr's being considerably shorter. For a listener not interested in a period instrument performance, this is a lovely disc to own, not least for the pristine sound (and the discounted price at Amazon at the moment, for an SACD, doesn't hurt). Even if you already own the Manze-Egarr disc, this would make an excellent modern instrument alternative, or perhaps you would want to match that disc with Fischer's second volume, which will reportedly also feature her playing the piano (which she does quite well by all reports), on the F minor fantasy for four hands (D. 940) with Helmchen.



Barry Lyons said...

You neglected to mention MY favorite recording of these works, a 1990 Dorian Recordings 2CD set with Jamie Laredo and Stephanie Brown (on modern instruments). I prefer these recordings over the too-reverberant Manze-Egarr, and with Laredo-Brown you get two more pieces: Rondo in B Minor and Fantasy in C Major. Beautiful recording and acoustics, so typical of Dorian and their many recordings at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, New York. This set, long ago deleted by Dorian, was picked up by Brilliant Classics, but I see, according to Amazon, it was recently deleted (but still available -- and I see that the original Dorian pressing is also still available at decent used prices).

Charles T. Downey said...

Barry, that is because I have not heard the Laredo-Brown recording. I will put it on my list of discs to acquire at a fire sale in the future.