Simply titled Live, this disc is the maiden voyage of violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's do-it-yourself label, NSS Music, available exclusively through her website at www.nssmusic.com. It is an unusually direct representation of Salerno-Sonnenberg's live duo recitals given at Merkin Hall in New York in April 2004 with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, an accompanist Salerno-Sonnenberg has been working with for a number of years. A casual glance at what the majors have wrought in terms of releases for Salerno-Sonnenberg leading up to this NSS Music issue makes clear that there was no room for this kind of low-key and intimate project. Nor is the program repertoire chosen here -- Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 7, the Violin Sonata of Francis Poulenc, and Franz Schubert's inexplicably obscure Rondeau Brillante -- on the "A" lists of any of the major labels in the manner of works to record.
The result, however, is superb -- far above the average for what might normally be viewed as a "boutique" release even for a major artist. Salerno-Sonnenberg and McDermott are an electrifying combination, crackling with energy and enthusiasm, never flagging in terms of interest or inspiration. The complex series of recaps in the rather quirky Schubert work always sound fresh when they come back around, as Salerno-Sonnenberg and McDermott instinctively know how to vary them without departing too far from the music. Salerno-Sonnenberg's tone is alternately warm and inviting and violently explosive -- the whole disc keeps the listener on the edge of his/her seat, hanging on every note. Producer Karen Chester deserves praise for having such a good ear; it is customary in studio recordings to keep the soloist's playing somewhat above the accompaniment no matter what the musical cost. One cannot recall a recording heretofore where the soloist is allowed to sink into the texture beneath the accompaniment and then rise out when desired -- the give and take between the two performers is scrupulously and accurately documented with a sense of deliberation, rather than by accident, as is the case in most live recordings. The recording is so well balanced and clear the listener must feel as though "you are there."
Salerno-Sonnenberg comments in her booklet note, "I would have been quite sad not to document the way we play and the influence we have had on each other." Indeed, posterity would have been poorer without such a document made, and trading in sub-par recordings of the Salerno-Sonnenberg/McDermott duo would have become the rule, rather than the exception. Thank you, Nadja, for relieving the future of that responsibility through the publication of this sublime concert recording.