United Kingdom Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Brahms and Franck: Janine Jansen (violin), Alexander Gavrylyuk (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 12.3.2019. (AS)
Robert Schumann – Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op.105
Clara Schumann – Three Romances for violin and piano, Op.22
Brahms -Violin Sonata No.2 in A, Op.100
Franck -Violin Sonata in A
The first half of this recital cleverly juxtaposed three composers who had personal involvements with each other – a man and his wife, and a man who was close to the wife after her husband died. It was striking that the composer with by far the least reputation, Clara Schumann, was not at all outclassed in comparison with her two famous lovers – or probably in the case of Brahms, merely her admirer.
Clara’s Three Romances are warmly romantic in nature and possess a strong and naturally flowing melodic content. The first is rhythmically intriguing, for it has a gentle but insistent rocking motion; the second expands with lots of easy-going charm, and the third has some delightful repeated patterns in the piano part. Not only are the pieces put together very skilfully, but their quality of invention is high. It was clear from Jansen and Gavrylyuk’s intensely dedicated playing that their regard for them is very high.
Schumann’s First Violin Sonata shows elements of anguish and this component was strongly communicated by the performers. But the more easeful aspects of the Sonata were conveyed too, with some lovely, tender phrasing in the central Allegretto and high spirits sometimes dominating the music’s underlying sense of anxiety in the scampering last movement. The mixture of toughness and resilience juxtaposed with lyricism in the Brahms Sonata was finely characterised, and there was some particularly rapt playing from both artists in the more slow-moving sections of the middle Andante movement.
Jansen’s playing is intriguing in that she does not particularly conjure any distinctive warmth of tone from her Stradivarius instrument. Her vibrato is a little more rapid than that cultivated by many of her colleagues, and though her technique is utterly secure she sometimes – and no doubt deliberately – alights not bang in the middle of a note but very slightly on its sharp side, possibly to intensify expression. The beauty and distinction of her playing comes more from her superb, natural and sensitive phrasing. Gavrylyuk is a superlative pianist, with a lovely warm tone quality and seemingly boundless – but effortless – technique. The two artists have frequently played together and clearly have a very close, intuitive artistic relationship.
Their qualities were shown most clearly in the Franck Sonata. Poor César Franck. Not only is he always referred to with his first name attached, as if he always needs to be distinguished from other and lesser composers who have the same surname, but given his quality he is quite unfairly neglected, except in the organ loft and in performances of the Violin Sonata, which thankfully retains a regular place in the repertoire. It is a superb work, melodically fluent, harmonically piquant and superbly constructed with material from all four movements related to each other (somehow the note writer avoided the term ‘cyclical form’). It sounded perfectly at home in the company of Brahms and Schumann. The performance was superlative: the opening Allegretto was a little more introspective than usual, which somehow gave extra contrast to Franck’s characteristic blend of refined sensuality and classical restraint. There was a quite turbulent, very passionate quality of expression in the following Allegro movement; the Recitativo-Fantasia had an intriguingly ruminative quality and in the final Allegretto the experience was of peace and uplifting warmth. Quite rightly, the performance elicited the most enthusiastic audience reaction of the evening, and Jansen and Gavrylyuk responded by playing Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne as an encore.