Schubert: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Volume 2; Fantasia for Piano Duet, D. 940. Julia Fischer, violin and piano; Martin Helmchen, piano. PentaTone. $19.99 (SACD).
Cuarteto Latinoamericano: Encores. Dorian Sono Luminus. $16.99.
Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen make a great team in both expected and unexpected ways. Their second and final SACD of all the small number of works that Schubert wrote for violin and piano includes the “Grand Duo” violin and piano sonata in A, D. 574, the Fantasia in C, D. 934, and a two-piano work in which Fischer moves elegantly and with apparent ease from the violin to the keyboard. There is a natural give-and-take to the Fischer-Helmchen performances that gives them a pleasant ebb and flow, and this is especially effective in music that is, for the most part, cheerful and emotionally light. But Fischer and Helmchen also plumb what depths these works have. The “Grand Duo” sonata, which dates to 1817, has three-fourths of its movements in three-quarter time, the sole exception being the opening Allegro moderato, which is the longest movement and the only one with even a hint of profundity. As a whole, the work is light to the point of being airy, and Fischer and Helmchen trip along with warmth and ebullience throughout. The Fantasia D. 934 is a later piece (1826) and, although certainly pleasant enough, is more inward-looking. Written for violinist Josef Slavik, the Fantasia offers the violin a meatier role than the piano receives. Schubert also melds the two instruments, at the very opening of the first-movement Andante molto moderato, into a plaintive combination that is more introverted than the rest of the work. Fischer and Helmchen do a fine job of balancing this piece’s more-serious and lighter elements – and they do equally well in the Fantasia for Piano Duet, written in Schubert’s final year (1828). This is an odd work in some ways: it is written in a form commonly used in its time for home entertainment, but is not nearly as light and carefree as most such works were. This is not to say that the work is gloomy or dismal; it is not. But it has more power than a typical drawing-room piece, along with greater emotional depth. Fischer and Helmchen play it with a seemingly natural rapport that lets the work flow easily throughout, allowing it to hint at profundity even as it simply delights the ear.
There is excellent flow among the members of Cuarteto Latinoamericano as well, but it is hard to recommend the group’s new Encores CD unreservedly despite the fine playing. The reason is that this is essentially a “fan” disc – likely to be of interest almost solely to people who simply like this quartet’s playing and want to hear some of the works that the members have, over the years, used as encores after their concerts. Those works themselves, though, will likely be quite unfamiliar: the 76-minute CD contains only one 13-minute item (Osvaldo Golijov’s Yiddishbbuk) that has ever been recorded before, and it is scarcely a well-known work. Cuarteto Latinoamericano’s members – brothers Saúl and Arón are the violinists, with a third brother, Alvaro, on cello, and Javier Montiel on viola – play all the pieces here with flair. And no wonder: many of them were written for the group. Still, it is hard to imagine that a lot of listeners will buy this CD for the music, which includes, in addition to the Golijov, Radamés Gnattali’s Valsa; Roberto Sierra’s Mambo 7/16; Stefano Scodanibbio’s Sandunga, Bésame Mucho, Cuando sale la luna and Canción Mixteca; Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez’ Cinco para Cuatro; Jorge Torres Sáenz’ La venus se va de juerga; Adolfo Salazar’s Rubaiyat; and David Stock’s Sueňos de Sefarad. The works are nearly all short or a series of short movements, and they contain plenty of virtuosity and enough emotional excess to work well as encores; but taken together, they make a rather thin musical gruel – there is little to sink one’s teeth into here (so to speak). This CD gets a (+++) rating because of the skill of the playing and the fact that some of the short pieces provide a great deal of lighthearted fun. But anyone looking for something more substantive from Cuarteto Latinoamericano must look elsewhere.