Jennifer Koh
Schumann Sonatas

By Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition
original link…

Review ****

Jennifer Koh, a student of Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir who impressed me with her recording of Szymanowski, here presents Schumann's official oeuvre for violin and piano, music she calls "viscerally haunting, obsessive, tender, and vulnerable." The No. 3 A Minor Sonata, the so-called F-A-E Sonata, joint-composed with Albert Dietrich and Johannes Brahms in 1853, might be familiar to a few cognoscenti by way of Isaac Stern's old CBS recording. The present work, however, is an unearthed (1956) sonata in which Schumann attached his own opening movement and finale to the movements of the F-A-E Sonata.

The A Minor and D minor Sonatas were recorded at SUNY, Purchase, NY, 27-29 May 2005. The feverish workings of the first movement of the A Minor Sonata yield to an intimate, salon expressiveness in the Allegretto. Koh and Uchida play it as protean intermezzo in shifting keys and colors. Typical of Schumann, each sonata alternates major and minor modes with some subtle anagram for initiates. The Lebhaft movement asserts itself in 16th notes and passionate interjections. Koh reminded me how I first loved this work when performed by Szymon Goldberg. The D Minor Sonata opens with a chordal flourish reminiscent of the Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52. Designated as a "Grand Sonata" by the composer, Koh and Uchida indulge its shifting major/minor contours with fervent, polished devotion. Uchida's bright Steinway provides a lyrically haunted undercurrent and tension to the progressions, which yearn to D Major but cannot quite part the veil.

The Scherzo sounds like a trial run for the Brahms Piano Quintet. The allusion to the chorale All Praise to Thee, Jesus Christ, ties this quirky maerchen to the lyrically sweet--it opens like a minstrel's serenade on a mandolin--variations of the third movement, a movement that permits Koh's 1727 Ex Grumiaux Stradivarius to shine. Plenty of spit and polish for the emotionally insistent moto perpetuo that concludes this epic, romantic work.

After a sonically dense introduction, the suppressed A Minor Sonata (recorded American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1-2 June 2006) meanders and leaps in lachrymose figures that recollect the Violin Concerto in D Minor. Both Scherzo and Intermezzo sing and move (bewegt), as required, the latter a lovely romanza. Another maerchen to battle the Philistines concludes the sonata, this wending its way with dainty and cadenza-like filigree. Solid Schumann fare dedicated, by the way, to the late pianist Edward Aldwell, a noted Bach player.

© 2007 Audiophile Audition