Schumann: The Violin Sonatas - Wallin / Pöntinen
Classical - Chamber
Robert Schumann: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor Op. 105, Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor Op. 121 "Große Sonate", Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor WoO2
Ulf Wallin (violin)
Roland Pöntinen (piano)
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Sonata No. 1:
Recorded in July 2009 at Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden, 24/88.2
Piano technician: Carl Wahren
Recording producer and sound engineer: Martin Nagorni (Arcandus Musikproduction)
Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3
Recorded in May/June 2010 at Studio Gärtnerstasse, Berlin, Germany, 24/88.2
Piano technicians: Serge Poulenc & Martin Jerabek
Recording producer and sound engineer: Marion Schwebel (Take5 Music Production)
Recording equipment (all works): Neumann microphones; RME Octamic D microphone pre-amplifier and high-resolution A/D converter; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation (for SACD); B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones
Post-production: Editing: Martin Nagorni, Elisabeth Kemper
Mixing: Marion Schwebel
Executive producer: Robert Suff (BIS); Stefan Lang (Deutschlandradio)
Review by Mark Novak - December 23, 2011
These three works probably don’t rank in the highest tier in the pantheon of violin sonatas. While they are a tick or two below Brahms’s essays in this medium, they still possess much good and often memorable material. Judging from the extant recordings, numbers 1 (59 listings) and 2 (47 listings) have been recorded many times while number 3 (only 19 listings) falls far behind. All three are written in minor keys and come in the final years of Schumann’s brief life.
Ulf Wallin and Roland Pontinen are long-time BIS artists. They invest all three sonatas with a robust romantic ethos with excellent dynamics and ensemble work. Wallin’s intonation is excellent. Wallin’s Montagnana violin (early 18th century origin) has a distinctive voice with a full sounding midrange coupled with a brilliant high end. As these sonatas feature the violin as the lead instrument, Wallin’s assertive and assured playing make the most of the music. Pontinen plays the affable and willing accomplice.
These recordings were captured in two different venues which is evident in the sound. Sonata No.1 was recorded at Nybrokajen 11 in July, 2009 and was engineered by Martin Nagorni. The sound is natural and realistic at the right playback volume giving a mid-hall perspective. The instruments are well balanced with Wallin’s violin emanating from center stage in front of the piano. I prefer a somewhat closer perspective for chamber music but nevertheless this does sound like a faithful capture of the two musicians. Sonatas No.2 and No.3 were recorded at Studio Gartnerstrasse, Berlin in May/June, 2010 and were engineered by Marion Schwebel. The sound here is also quite natural though just a tad more distant and blended than in the sonata No.1 recording. Both recording teams used the same equipment so sonic differences can be chalked up to mic placement and venue characteristics. Extraneous noises from the players are minimal.
Those looking for 74 minutes of romantic music played at the highest level and captured in natural sound won’t be disappointed. Highly Recommended.
Copyright © 2011 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net
Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 16, 2012
It is not often that one gets all three Schumann violin sonatas on one disk. May be because the first two were composed as such and the third one only being the result of some tinkering. In fact, it stems from a sonata written in collaboration with Albert Dietrich and Johannes Brahms for the German violinist Joseph Joachim and to which Schumann’s contribution consisted of an intermezzo and a finale. In order to be able to call it his third violin sonata, Schumann subsequently added a first movement and a scherzo. This sonata was, however, not published as, so it seems, his wife Clara (and others) thought it too much to the detriment of his reputation. (A similar fate underwent his tormented violin concerto). The decision is questionable. It is true that Schumann never was a great orchestrator, but his chamber works were an entirely different matter. We can speculate about the role Johannes Brahms played in this decision. Much is rumoured about his relationship with Clara. Be that as it may, it was only in 1956 that the premiere took place.
Since I already had the first and second sonata (Dora Schwarzberg/Polina Leschenko) it was precisely for this third sonata that I bought this disk.
Comparison between Schwarzberg and Wallin, as far as the first two sonatas are concerned, reveal that the difference between both interpretations could not have been bigger. As for Schwarzberg, I can understand Polly Nomial’s feeling “as though we are privileged to have been invited into a friend’s home to enjoy an evening of wonderful chamber music”. Her highly emotional and at times ‘sturmisch’ reading, testing the limits of Schumann’s intentions and, indeed, the feelings of the listener, keeps one alert from start to finish.
Against this background, Wallin’s is an altogether different cup of tea. At first hearing, and in direct comparison, his reading of these sonatas is almost ‘boring’, though definitely more consistent in approach. Especially the first sonata is, in my opinion, less well served in terms of emotion than Schwarzberg’s interpretation. Is it due to the venue; is it the fact that Swedes prefer to hide too much emotion? Because in the second sonata, recorded in Berlin, Wallin demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the romantic heights and emotional depths of Schumann’s final years.
On repeated listening, however, my mood gradually shifted away from Schwarzberg towards the consistency of Ulf Wallin. Where Schwartzberg hurries through the faster movements (she is 2 minutes in the first and no less than 4 plus minutes faster in the second sonata), with her ever changing tempi and loudness (the pizzicato in the third movement of the second sonata is barely audible), Wallin’s maturity becomes more and more apparent. And even more than that: he ably lifts the second sonata to a level at which, as far as I am concerned, it can withstand positive comparison with any of Brahms’ violin sonatas.
As for the third sonata: the way it is played by Ulf Wallin, makes one wonder why it was not published during Schumann’s lifetime. It is hard to understand what damage it could have done to his reputation. Certainly, it is not as well constructed as the Second sonata, but compared to the short, first sonata, there is no reason to omit it from the repertoire, as seems to be too often the case.
All things considered a most welcome and rewarding experience. Not only in terms of play, but also in terms of value for the buck. The recording is up to the usual BIS standard and the liner notes of Ulf Wallin are well worth reading. What more can I say?
Copyright © 2012 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net