It is understood that the French have a way with violin sonatas; apart from the three by Johann Sebastian Bach, César Franck's Sonata in A major is probably the best-known and most popular violin sonata ever written. For their third disc as collaborators on the Avi-Service music label, violinist Antje Weithaas and pianist Silke Avenhaus serve up a recital of three of the key French violin sonatas, the first of Saint-Saëns' and Fauré and the second of Ravel. The Saint-Saëns in D minor (1885) is the least known of the three and is a great one. Saint-Saëns, after all, composed two of the most frequently performed works for violin and orchestra in history, Danse Macabre and his Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor. This sonata has some of the same notable qualities as the other works, and bears some common ground with the Franck sonata, composed one year after the Saint-Saëns. Fauré's Sonata in A major (1876) shows great flexibility and facility, if not yet mastery, of the medium; nevertheless, it is regarded as the common model for the subgenre of the many French violin sonatas to follow in the coming years; it and the Ravel are both enormously popular and recorded with frequency.
Avenhaus is terrific through the whole disc; no stranger to accompanying string soloists, Avenhaus has worked with Thomas Zehetmair, Isabelle Faust, and Tabea Zimmermann and this is her third disc supporting Weithaas. Avenhaus treats her music as though it is a solo sonata in itself, but backs off with the approach of the soloist and never gets in her way. Weithaas is fine, but is compromised by Deutschlandfunk's recording. Weithaas is a bold, extroverted player, and while Deutschlandfunk's engineers maintain a very good perspective from the mean to a loud crescendo, once the violin dips below a certain level it can no longer be heard. When Weithaas reaches a loud fortissimo the result sometimes sounds strident, and when she is playing pianissimo, she is simply gone; at the beginning of the Andante of the Fauré, neither one is clearly audible. Nevertheless, it is a well-conceived program and the playing is quite good; if you would like to know some of the French violin sonata literature beyond the Franck sonata, this is a strong choice.