Franz Schubert: Works for Violin and Piano

Media Review / Listening Diary 2013-11-21

2013-11-21 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-10 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-13 — Brushed up for better readability
2017-06-28 — Added recording with Pieter Wispelwey & Paolo Giacometti (cello & fortepiano)

Table of Contents

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828): Works for Violin and Piano

The CDs

Alina Ibragimova, Cédric Tiberghien

Schubert: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Ibragimova, Tiberghien, CD cover

Schubert: Complete Works for Violin and Piano

Alina Ibragimova, Cédric Tiberghien

Hyperion CDA67911/2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 2013

Schubert: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Ibragimova, Tiberghien, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link

Yuuko Shiokawa, András Schiff

Schubert: Wanderer-Fantasie D.760, Fantasie for Vl.&piano D.934, Shiokawa, Schiff, CD cover

Schubert: Fantasie C-dur für Klavier, D.760 (“Wanderer”); Fantasie C-dur für Violine und Klavier, D.934

Yuuko Shiokawa, András Schiff

ECM New Series 1699, 464 320-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ 2000 / © 2000

Schubert: Wanderer-Fantasie D.760, Fantasie for Vl.&piano D.934, Shiokawa, Schiff, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link

Pieter Wispelwey, Paolo Giacometti

Schubert: Arpecciona, Fantasy, Sonata — Wispelwey, Giacometti (CD cover)

Schubert: Fantasie C-dur für Violine und Klavier, D.934; Sonata (Duo) in A major, D.574 (arr. for cello); Sonata in A minor for cello & piano, D.821, “Arpeggione”

Pieter Wispelwey, cello; Paolo Giacometti, fortepiano

Onyx 4046 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2009

Schubert: Arpecciona, Fantasy, Sonata — Wispelwey, Giacometti (CD, UPC-A barcode)
amazon media link

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore

Schubert: Lieder, Fischer-Dieskau, Moore, CD cover

Schubert: Lieder

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore

DG 477 8989 (21 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1969-1972 / © 2010

Schubert: Lieder, Fischer-Dieskau, Moore, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link

A Legacy Recording

In the basement I still have an LP with Schubert’s three Sonatinas for violin and piano. The artists on that LP are Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Walter Klien. I haven’t listened to these in about 40 years. I once bought this because I was playing the first Sonatina (D major, D.384) in my violin lessons. That’s about as far as I ever got on the instrument! It’s certainly a good recording, but…

Looking for a More Recent Recording…

I have since been looking for a CD recording of Schubert’s works for violin and piano. However, I was looking for something more historically informed, and ideally with less vibrato. I found a couple of options:

  • Gidon Kremer and Oleg Maisenberg: a CD with the three Sonatinas.
    That is the most selective recording: just the three Sonatinas. Available only second-hand, sporadically, and at exorbitant prices. Kremer’s playing isn’t exactly free of vibrato — plus, at least one of the Sonatinas I had almost played to death. Hence, I did not feel a rush to buy.
  • Fabio Biondi and Olga Tverskaya: a CD with the three Sonatinas and the Duo D.574.
    This recording is more complete, but appears to be rare / expensive (or used and in questionable shape). Again: I did not feel in a rush for this. I remember at least some of the Sonatinas only too well…
  • Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu: a double CD with the three Sonatinas. There’s also the Duo D.574 and the Fantasie D.934, plus apparently the Arpeggione Sonata D.821, with Maurice Gendron.
    This recording is the most complete, but sound samples exhibit a fair amount of vibrato.

… and Finding One, At Last!

Recently, I was reviewing a recording with the Chiaroscuro Quartet. That CD features Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor, op.95, plus works by Mozart (yet to be reviewed). This is a HIP recording. I was interested in seeing how Alina Ibragimova (first violin in that quartet) performs alone. I saw two recordings that might be of interest here. First, a CD set with the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo, of which I already have many recordings. Then, there’s the above CD set with all compositions for violin and piano by Franz Schubert, with Cédric Tiberghien. This was recorded in 2012, published in 2013.

That latter recording sounded like a good opportunity to explore Alina Ibragimova’s playing. At the same time it adds all of Schubert’s compositions for violin and piano to my collection. Two of the pieces on these CDs I can compare with other recordings. For a third one I have the “original” version for voice and piano.

A “Strange” Late Addition (Amendment 2017-06-28)

In a concert in Budapest, on 2017-06-11, I heard Vilde Frang perform The Fantasy in C major, D.934 (see below), together with José Gallardo. I’m referring to this concert performance briefly below.

Coincidentally, just days after that concert, I was looking for a “decent” recording of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” sonata (Sonata in A minor, D.821). “Decent” meaning one with a historic instrument, i.e., fortepiano, rather than a modern concert grand. My search was successful, with the recording by Pieter Wispelwey, cello, and Paolo Giacometti. The latter using a historic fortepiano (see below for details, for the CD information see above). To my amazement, this included two of Schubert’s compositions for violin and piano (Fantasie in C major, op.posth.159, D.934, and Sonata / Duo in A major, D.574). Pieter Wispelwey has arranged these for cello and (forte)piano. It’s these two extra recordings which I’m discussing briefly here—I won’t dwell on the Arpeggione Sonata at this point.

Fantasie in C major, op.posth.159, D.934

The Fantasie in C major is Schubert’s longest composition for violin and piano; it consists of a sequence of “movements” — all typically played attacca:

Andante molto — Allegretto — Andantino — Tempo I — Allegro vivace — Allegretto — Presto

The Andantino is a set of variations on the melody “Sei mir gegrüßt!” that Schubert published as his op.20/1 (D.741, see below).

Yuuko Shiokawa & András Schiff

Here, I already had a version in my collection, recorded in 2000 by Yuuko Shiokawa and her husband, András Schiff. Schiff’s playing is impeccable (I have all his Schubert sonata recordings). Yuuko Shiokawa has a very nice violin tone. It is very clean also in the highest positions, maybe occasionally with the vibrato at the upper limit. The latter is my personal taste, of course. My main (minor) criticism with this recording is that the tempo is at the lower limit in the fast sections. The Allegretto to me feels rather like an Andante.

To some degree, the entire composition seems “stuck” in the serene, introverted mood that dominates the opening section. This may help “holding things together”. However, it also gives the impression of “heavenly lengths” that are also attributed to the great C major symphony. I should state that this interpretation is very much in line with Schiff’s Schubert piano (sonata) interpretations in general. It’s all played very carefully, accurately and diligently. However, to my taste, it suffers a bit from being too “ethereal” (serene, maybe meditative) throughout.

Rating: 4.0

Alina Ibragimova & Cédric Tiberghien

The new recording by Alina Ibragimova (*1985) and Cédric Tiberghien (*1975) was made in 2012. And also here, the pianist is excellent. He is obviously younger, hence maybe a little less contemplative, more forward-leaning, definitely more vivid in the fast sections. Alina Ibragimova: if you are expecting a violin tone like with Nathan Milstein or Arthur Grumiaux, you will be disappointed! She plays the violin by Anselmo Bellosio (ca. 1775) that she also uses in the recordings with the Chiaroscuro Quartet. It’s an instrument with different sound characteristics, possibly also due to gut strings. The sound is less dense, lighter, sometimes more “grainy”. Her articulation is lighter, too, and she uses less vibrato (and more selectively).

The Interpretation

I would not want to criticize her tone. I don’t think these pieces require a violin with the volume of a Guarneri or a top Stradivarius. After all, the instruments that were played in Schubert’s circles were likely much more modest. By no means I want to belittle Alina Ibragimova’s playing. I take this as historically informed playing, and she is very virtuosic; I really like this. And definitely, I prefer it over the interpretation by “big names”, especially those overload the pieces with permanent vibrato. If I were to add critical remarks on this recording, then these would be

  • Tiberghien is playing a Steinway grand. I think that a historic (period or replica) piano (e.g., an Erard from the early 18th century, maybe a Broadwood) would have been more adequate for this recording. It would also have helped the sound balance: the Steinway has a tendency to dominate here. The sound is maybe too “polished”, and the violin sometimes is too much in the background. This could have been corrected by the sound technician, though.
  • Ibragimova occasionally (mostly in the Andantino) has a slight tendency to end long notes with a crescendo. It does not occur very often, but it is something I also noticed in a YouTube recording where she plays Bach’s Chaconne (video no longer available).
  • Shiokawa’s intonation occasionally (in high peak notes) is a tad cleaner.

Tempo Comparison

On the other hand, for me, the big plus in this recording over Shiokawa/Schiff is in the faster pace in the fast movements. Just compare the durations in the table below.

The tempo in the Andante molto (and of course in the Tempo I segment) is pretty much the same. However, in Ibragimova’s / Tiberghien’s interpretation, all other sections are noticeably faster. And Alina Ibragimova plays out her agility and virtuosity (and the piece is pretty demanding!).

Rating: 4.5I prefer Ibragimova / Tiberghien over Shiokawa / Schiff. Simply because to me this offers the richer experience — a very nice recording!

Pieter Wispelwey & Paolo Giacometti (Amendment 2017-06-28)

Artists, Instruments

In their 2009 recording,Pieter Wispelwey, (*1962) plays a 1760 cello by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (Parma, 1711 – 1786). Paolo Giacometti (*1970) plays a historic fortepiano named “La Grassa” originating from the Vienna School, 1815. Wispelwey arranged the fantasy for his instrument—and this works amazingly well! Wispelwey did not transpose the composition (say, to F major, in order to keep the tonality relative to the string tuning on his instrument). But of course, there is a down-shift by an octave. On top of that, the tuning is based on a slightly lower pitch—only a small fraction of a half-tone. Some listeners may actually feel more comfortable with the cello pitch, compared to the often extreme pitch on the violin.

One key aspect of this recording, though, is the use of a historic fortepiano from Schubert’s time. This adds vivid, brighter colors to the recording. At the same time, it also resolves the notorious balance issue with playing classic and romantic chamber music on modern concert grands. My concert report from 2017-06-11 gives a vivid testimony of such issues. In this recording, the use of a cello in lieu of a violin adds yet another factor: the cello has more volume than a violin. The lower pitch potentially also shifts any potential volume / balance issues to different passages. On top of that, the fortepiano is definitely more agile (in its mechanics) than a modern concert grand. And it is able to reach farther at the soft end of the dynamic range.


For one, of course, Wispelwey’s playing is astounding. His virtuosity, agility and flexibility pretty much matches that of the above violinists. In fact, his playing puts this interpretation closer to that of Ibragimova / Tiberghien than to Shiokawa / Schiff. The timing table below confirms this. The one, minor exception is the first Allegretto, where the slightly heavier articulation of the cello comes into play. There are maybe a few moments where in comparison to Ibragimova’s violin this sounds a tad heavy. For example, the repeated octave jumps near the beginning which stand out a bit too much. However, this is more than compensated by the benefits of the fortepiano. And also by the cello playing in the rest of that movement.

I would dare to say: in my view, this recording beats Ibragimova’s (let alone Shiokawa’s) in most aspects! And before moving away because it is “only an arrangement”: give it a try, it’s definitely worth it!

Rating: 4.8

Timing Comparison

Schubert, Fantasy D.934, Duration Comparison

Rondo in B minor, D.895

A dramatic composition, in an excellent, virtuosic, almost thrilling interpretation (13’30”) by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien.

Sonata (Duo) in A major, D.574

Alina Ibragimova & Cédric Tiberghien

An excellent, wonderful and great composition, a true masterpiece that doesn’t need to hide behind Beethoven’s great violin sonatas. This interpretation is an exemplary demonstration of the appropriate, considerate use of vibrato in music of that time. Alina Ibragimova plays the theme at the beginning of the first movement (and its recurrences) with a vibrato that I would call vocal, natural. It’s definitely not nervous of overly conspicuous. It is very much a vocal melody, so it’s legitimate, if not intended for the solo to imitate a human voice. With the latter I consider a—harmonious—vibrato as a given, natural.

For the rest of the composition, Alina Ibragimova uses vibrato to highlight / enhance / emphasize long notes. For example: at the climax of a melody or theme. Alina Ibragimova’s playing with limited vibrato sharpens the contours, especially in the dramatic second and last movements. Especially together with Cédric Tiberghien‘s attentive accompaniment. Actually, it’s not accompaniment here, the two voices are equal partners. It’s for good reason that Schubert called this a Duo. An excellent interpretation!

Rating: 5.0

Pieter Wispelwey & Paolo Giacometti (Amendment 2017-06-28)

What I stated above about the Fantasy in C major is valid for the Duo in A major just as well. And here I would claim that the two recordings are at least equivalent. This one has a slight advantage because of the fortepiano. In a recording such as Ibragimova’s, the sound technician can correct the volume and avoid balance issues. In a concert this is not possible. Conversely, Ibragimova’s has the advantage of featuring the original pitch for the string instrument.

Rating: 5.0 — Again: before stepping away because it is “only an arrangement”: give it a try, it’s definitely worth it!

Sonatinas in D major (D.384), A minor (D.385), and G minor (D.408)

I hesitated listening to these three earlier sonatas. I feared that it might feel boring, because I once listened to Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Walter Klien very often and still have these in the back of my mind. As it turns out, my fear was not justified. The interpretation by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien is refreshingly different, vivid, playful, with lively agogics. Plus, the restricted use of vibrato alone to me makes this interpretation worth having!

Sure, from their musical and emotional structure / substance, these sonatas are simpler than the Duo in A major. It’s for good reason that Schubert called them Sonatinas. However, I really like Alina Ibragimova’s unpretentious playing, and Cédric Tiberghien’s attentive and detailed accompaniment. Overall, again an excellent interpretation. I now may have problems listening to any of those vibrato-rich (overloaded, exceedingly artful) “conventional” / romantic recordings!

LiedSei mir gegrüßt“, op.20/1, D.741

This is an encore in the recording with Ibragimova & Tiberghien: Schubert’s LiedSei mir gegrüßt” (op.20/1, D.741) on a poem by Friedrich Rückert (1788 – 1866). The melody of this Lied is used as theme for the Andantino variations in the Fantasie in C major (see above). This was presumably transcribed for violin by the artists. It’s a nice idea: a kind of “song without words”, beautifully played! One can partially compare this with the “real” Lied, as available in the collection that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore recorded in 1969. You will find that without the words, an entire (logical) layer is missing. Especially when you take Fischer-Dieskau’s thought- and masterful interpretation. The latter version is definitely more dramatic, also substantially faster, overall (3’52” vs. 4’37”). Here’s the text of the song, first the original by Friedrich Rückert, in German:

Sei mir gegrüßt

O du Entrissne mir und meinem Kusse,
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküsst!
Erreichbar nur meinem Sehnsuchtsgruße,
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküsst!

Du von der Hand der Liebe diesem Herzen
Gegeb’ne, du von dieser Brust
Genomm’ne mir! Mit diesem Tränengusse
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküsst!

Zum Trotz der Ferne, die sich feindlich trennend
Hat zwischen mich und dich gestellt;
Dem Neid der Schicksalsmächte zum Verdrusse
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküsst!

Wie du mir je im schönsten Lenz der Liebe
Mit Gruß und Kuss entgegenkamst,
Mit meiner Seele glühendstem Ergusse,
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküsst!

Ein Hauch der Liebe tilget Räum’ und Zeiten,
Ich bin bei dir, du bist bei mir,
Ich halte dich in dieses Arms Umschlusse,
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküsst!

And here’s an English translation. Both texts are from the lyrics that one can download from DG, using coordinates in the liner notes to the CD box:

Let me greet you

O you who were torn from me and my kiss,
Let me greet you, let me kiss you!
You, reached only by my yearning greeting,
Let me greet you, let me kiss you!

You, given to this heart by the hand of love,
You, taken from my breast,
With this torrent of tears
Let me greet you, let me kiss you!

Defying the distance, hostile and divisive,
That has separated you from me,
Vexing the envious powers of fate,
Let me greet you, let me kiss you!

As once in love’s fairest Spring
You came to me with a greeting and a kiss,
So with my soul’s most ardent outpouring
Let me greet you, let me kiss you!

One breath of love effaces time and space;
I am with you, you are with me;
I hold you in my arms’ embrace:
Let me greet you, let me kiss you!

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