Daniel Sepec / Andreas Staier

Schumann: Sonatas for Piano & Violin

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This disc is a sequel to the Hommage à Bach release by German pianist Andreas Staier, likewise devoted to the music of Schumann. Here Staier devotes himself to Schumann's late music (from his last year or so among the sane), playing the Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 133, himself, and taking on violinist Daniel Sepec for the two violin sonatas and Schumann's arrangement of Bach's Chaconne (here "Ciaconna") from the Partita for unaccompanied violin in D minor, BWV 1004. Both players use historical instruments, Staier's 1837 Erard is the same piano that's heard on the earlier release, and it's safe to say that those who enjoyed Hommage à Bach will also find much to admire here, even though the two performances are quite different in overall effect. The Chaconne is a different kind of Bach homage from those earlier in Schumann's career, and its new piano accompaniment has a diverse quality that has sometimes been taken to be unfocused. The lyrical, slightly murky sound of the Erard works beautifully here, giving the piece the quality of a meditation on Bach played in small quarters for connoisseurs. In the violin sonatas the case for a historical piano is not clear-cut, and some listeners will miss the brilliant sound at cadences and in passagework. On their own terms the performances succeed, with Sepec adopting a dry tone that emphasizes the formal, rather difficult qualities of the music. These sonatas in Sepec and Staier's readings seem to anticipate the intricate motivic structures of Brahms' chamber music, and, of course, Brahms, hanging around the Schumann household and lusting after Clara all the while, must have heard them and absorbed them well. The Gesänge der Frühe (Songs of Early Morning) are inward-looking representational pieces in Schumann's earlier manner, but again Staier's readings are subtle and reflective rather than tugging at the heartstrings. This disc is definitely worth the time of the Schumann lover, despite unpleasantly close-up sound that highlights extraneous noises made by both the performers and their instruments.

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