Jennifer Pike / Tom Poster

Brahms, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann: Violin Sonatas

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Jennifer Pike, who won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the tender age of 12, appears to have survived the perils of prodigyhood and entered her early twenties with musical intelligence intact. Here she offers a terrific program of music from the middle of the 19th century; all of it is abstract, but it brings vividly to mind the crucial trio of creative figures who met in the early 1850s: the ailing Robert Schumann, his musically frustrated wife Clara, and the young Johannes Brahms, mooning over the latter. The Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 78, was written some years after that, but it seems to hark back to that time, not least in its dedication to Felix Schumann, Robert and Clara Schumann's youngest child. The work is a typical product of Brahms' maturity, with a first movement in which a flow of melody artfully conceals a dense web of motivic connections and intricately calibrated sonata-form balances, all of which Pike bring out very well. What's striking is the similarity of the work to Schumann's Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 105, one of three violin sonatas Schumann wrote toward the end of his life. These works have occupied only the margins of the violin-and-piano repertory, but Pike, by juxtaposing the work with Brahms and giving it a committed, gutsy performance, shows it at its best: Schumann's late works increasingly are seen as forward-looking, and they are no doubt the pieces the young Brahms heard in the Schumann household. Completing the triangle are the Three Romances, Op. 22, of Clara Schumann, composed in 1853; they are brief but quite ambitious works with some unusually inventive harmonic moves. All the pieces seem to be conversing with one another; the violinist is both technically and interpretively in control; and pianist Tom Poster brings just the right amount of prominence to his role, which is substantial in the Clara Schumann Romances. An impressive accomplishment.

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