Jennifer Koh
Schumann Sonatas

By Marc Geelhoed
Time Out Chicago / Issue 113
April 26–May 2, 2007
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5 stars

Schumann’s chamber music attracts the brainier musicians of the classical establishment, players who aren’t scared off by the music’s foreboding atmosphere and discursive bent. Koh is one of them, as she’s proved on a string of Cedille releases that peered into the underbrush of her instrument’s repertoire. Most recently, she and Uchida recorded a remarkable collection of fantasies in 2003 that placed Schubert and Schumann alongside Ornette Coleman and Schoenberg, and in 2006 she released a disc of concertos by Szymanowski and Martinu. The broad-minded Koh champions a few thorny composers that likely won’t see the light of day on the generally cautious Cedille label, but her excursions off the beaten path, such as the three minor-key sonatas on this new disc, are always welcome.

The changes of mood and perspective that crop up disconcertingly often in Schumann pose no problem for Koh and Uchida. Each is focused on staying in the moment, and willingly relinquishes the spotlight to the other when they hand off the tune. The Third Sonata, which sometimes jumps around like a jittery film reel that refuses to calmly display a single image, benefits especially from their equanimity and poise.

Koh displays an astonishingly wide variety of attacks and exquisite technical control. Uchida gracefully grabs the thematic material when it comes her way, and is almost too understated at times. Still, you end up wishing Schumann had composed more violin sonatas.

© 2007 Time Out Chicago