Piano Quartet in B flat, Op.8
6 Sonatas for Piano and Violin, Op.10
Isabelle Faust (violin) & Alexander Melnikov (fortepiano) with Boris Faust (viola) & Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt (cello)
Recorded June 2011 in Teldex Studio, Berlin
CD No: HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902108 Duration: 70 minutes Reviewed: January 2013
Carl Maria von Weber Piano Quartet & Violin Sonatas – Isabelle Faust & Alexander Melnikov [Harmonia Mundi]
Reviewed by Ben Hogwood
Recordings of chamber music by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) have been occasional in recent years, and when they have appeared the focus has tended to be on the music involving clarinet and flute. It comes as a refreshing change to be listening to new versions of the Piano Quartet and the violin sonatas that are collected under Opus 10, Alexander Melnikov using a fortepiano built in the same decade as the music was written. The thoughtful programming changes the order of performance of the sonatas to make a logical tonal progression and positions them in two groups of three either side of the Piano Quartet. Together they make a collection of Weber’s early works, written when he was in his early-20s, with much melodic invention, energy, humour and imaginative scoring, along with a few surprises.
The Piano Quartet is by some way the most substantial work here, and brims with youthful vigour. The main theme is quite close in profile to that of Beethoven’s Trio in B flat (Opus 11), and is both charming and witty. The development of the themes reveals it to be the work of a young composer, but the four performers convey the vitality that runs through it, together with the humour. There are also moments of great profundity. Isabelle Faust’s double-stopping at the start of the Adagio creates accordion-like sounds, an extraordinary timbre without the use of vibrato, an expressive device that gives the music great depth of feeling. As the movement progresses it becomes ever more fraught, driven by the forceful playing of Melnikov, and on the fast side, particularly when compared with the version by Kremerata Musica made for Deutsche Grammophon in 1995. Such energy is always present in the faster music, and the finale harnesses both virtuosity and astute phrasing.
The Opus 10 Sonatas are frequently surprising. Hurriedly composed in the summer of 1810, their brevity gives the impression of them being half-finished, but the concise designs contain music of unexpected power and grace. There is impudence in the way that Weber flouts convention. Melnikov and Faust find this in the stubborn refusal of the opening work’s first movement to find the resolution the listener expects. The movements’ concision compromises development in the traditional sense, but Weber makes the most of some very good tunes.
The musicians bring maximum enjoyment to each work, and the performances could hardly be better, Faust and Melnikov pushing the technical capabilities of their instruments in the Sonatas, with energy, virtuosity and affection – something to truly blow away the cobwebs!