Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata; Lieder

Antoine Tamestit

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Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata; Lieder Review

by James Manheim

Franz Schubert's Sonata for arpeggione and piano, D. 821, was composed in 1824, around the same time as the String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, "Death and the Maiden," and it has the same kind of grim melancholy that the biographically inclined attribute to the composer's deteriorating health. The arpeggione, a bowed six-stringed instrument somewhat like a guitar, fell into disuse soon after Schubert wrote the work. Performances on the original instrument are worth hearing, but it is most often performed on a cello. A viola somehow seems to catch the fuzzy, slightly antique quality of the original instrument better, and violist Antoine Tamestit, in the interview-format booklet notes (in French, English, and German) is right to assert that the work brings out the "sometimes rather neglected powers of the instrument." Tamestit's performance of the sonata is quite affecting, with a despairing, debilitated sound that's difficult to pull off. He treads into more controversial territory with his half-dozen transcriptions of Schubert songs for the viola. These might work singly or in pairs, but an entire run of them simply leaves the listener wanting to hear the texts. Soprano Sandrine Piau, noted for her Baroque recordings and for sacred music more than for German Romanticism, comes on board for the final two numbers, with Tamestit essaying the clarinet part of Der Hirt auf dem Felsen on the viola. This substitution would have been unexceptionable to an audience of Schubert's time, and as for Piau, a diamond still shines even if it is not situated in the right surroundings. A typically daring release from France's Naïve label, worth your time and money for the splendid performance of the "Arpeggione" Sonata.

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