Classical CD Reviews

French Fantasy = DEBUSSY: Beau Soir; Violin Sonata in G Minor; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor – Maria Bachmann, violin/ Adam Neiman, p. – Bridge

Bachmann and Neiman deliver a conservative French program of rhythmic flair and constant melodic invention.

Published on December 20, 2012

French Fantasy = DEBUSSY: Beau Soir; Violin Sonata in G Minor; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor – Maria Bachmann, violin/ Adam Neiman, p. – Bridge

French Fantasy = DEBUSSY: Beau Soir (arr. Heifetz); Violin Sonata in G Minor; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75 – Maria Bachmann, violin/ Adam Neiman, piano – Bridge 9394, 68:49 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

From the outset of this crisp and musically alert disc (rec. 16-18 December 2011), we recognize the Jascha Heifetz influence that marks this Gallic recital: his 1935 arrangement of the Debussy song “Beau Soir” opens the program, and Heifetz proved largely responsible for the popularizing of the Saint-Saens 1885 Sonata in D Minor, a piece the more “natural” acolytes Zino Francescatti and Robert Casadesus never recorded.  The lovely Ms. Bachmann, plying her 1782 Nicolo Gagliano instrument, brings a lustrous ardor to each selection, making even the carpe diem sentiment of poet Paul Bourget’s “Beau Soir” a moment of sensuous longing rather than a musing on mortality.

The Franck 1886 Violin Sonata in A Major provides both principals an excellent vehicle for individual and collaborative display. Having reviewed Mr. Neiman twice in San Jose, in 2008 and 2011 respectively, at the Steinway Bay Area concerts, I can well appreciate the range of the gifts and potency of his sonority on the Steinway D. Certainly, auditors will gravitate more than once to Bachmann and Neiman’s sterling, pliant, and thoughtful realization of Franck’s voluptuous Recitativo-Fantasia third movement, chiseled as it is from the very germ that begins the Sonata. To make an instant comparison to the esteemed recording by Heifetz and Rubinstein seems inevitable, and these modern artists hold their own.  While no duo has ever equaled the serene poise in the canonic Allegretto poco mosso Oistrakh and Yampolsky achieve, the bar-apart entrances of Bachmann and Neiman resound with supple poise and requisite explosive power.

Claude Debussy’s G Minor Violin Sonata of 1917 generates its own idiosyncratic loyalty, a combination of thematic economy and emotional ambiguity, elusive and nostalgic at once. Bachmann maintains a high noble line in the Allegro vivo, exploiting in soft harmonics and troubadour’s evocations. Neiman’s keyboard adds water colors, so the feverish song glides over a Corot painting. The shapely phrasing from Bachmann, her vocal sprezzatura, find a balance between Thibaud’s chaste line and Grumiaux’s Belgian vocal generosity. The second movement, Fantastique et leger, imparts to each principal a Puckish delight in strummed music-hall banjo  effects.  The wisps of Spanish color in the preceding two movements converge in the concluding Tres anime, once the rondo theme establishes itself. Neiman’s treble magic soon applies to the bass line while Bachmann weaves the flighty song that sets the obsessive tone of the dance. Bachmann’s tempo proves audacious, no kidding around; but her middle section slows down for double stops and slides that contort the original melody into Moorish seductions. If the movement indeed forms an ourobouros, it’s a multi-colored creature to which Bachmann has attached hypnotic qualities.

That Saint-Saens possessed astonishing gifts at the keyboard makes itself plain enough from the first notes of his D Minor Sonata, even as Bachmann provides us eminently vocal phrases in an energetic piece which takes its more volatile cues from Beethovne’s Kreutzer Sonata. Again, Bachmann’s tempos tend to be quick, the line extended in the Heifetz manner.  Her intonation and shaping of the phrases reflect her strong emotional commitment, echoed at every turn by Neiman. The soft segues between the four connected movements remind us of Saint-Saens’ and Liszt’s affection for a cyclic form in four-movements-in-two-sections derived from Schubert’s chamber works and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The E-flat Major Adagio basks in crystalline filigree that transitions seamlessly to the Scherzo in G straight from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer box of energetic tricks. The ostinati become increasingly vehement as the fourth movement emerges from sixteenth notes that tax any pianist’s wrists. Saint-Saens’ affection for chorale themes exerts itself once more, declamatory and nobly rendered. Vivacious, virtuosic, and sincere, these performances give us a kind of grand epoch sensibility in our own salon, vividly translated into the recorded medium by Adam Abeshouse.

—Gary Lemco




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