Schuberts violin sonatas seem to remain on the fringe of the standard repertory, never in danger of being overexposed. The three earlier ones, composed at age 19 (March-April 1816), were published posthumously as "sonatinas," but they are neither miniature nor lightweight, though they are characteristically ingratiating. The very opening of the first one, in D major, is an assurance of that, and interest never flags throughout this remarkable triptych. The still more substantial Sonata in A major (sometimes labeled simply "Duo") shows Schubert entering his rich maturity at 20.
The violinist Johanna Martzy and the pianist Jean Antonietti provided an enduring benchmark in the early 1950s, in their EMI recordings of all six of Schuberts works for their instruments. Just last year Newport issued an attractive set with Arnold Steinhardt and Seymour Lipkin. Manze and Egarr make less, perhaps, of the musics Gemütlichkeit, focusing on its somewhat unexpected boldness. Using instruments from Schuberts own time, they do not neglect the materials lyric character, but they bring out a level of assertiveness that seems to explain the impulse to produce such works. I hope they will get round to the Fantasy in C (actually the grandest of Schuberts duo sonatas) and the expansive Rondo in B minor. Meanwhile, these vigorous, affectionate performances are enhanced by first-rate sound and Manzes own very enlightening annotation.
Through mid-November Manze and Egarr are performing in 11 US and Canadian cities. In time for their arrival, Harmonia Mundi has brought out the Schubert CD and Egarrs stimulating account of The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, played on a 1638 harpsichord "in Bachs own tuning." In contrast to the Schubert works too seldom heard, this set shines revitalizing light on music we may have thought we knew inside out, but which is always loaded with surprises.
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