New Classical Tracks: Kindred spirits

Andrew Manze - Richard Egarr
Andrew Manze - Richard Egarr
Album cover

Compatibility is a rare and precious thing. That's one reason this new release of Schubert sonatas is so special. It features two musicians who are kindred spirits. Keyboardist Richard Egarr came to that realization in 1983 when he first heard Andrew Manze playing violin. Egarr overheard Manze preparing for a concert for the new students at Cambridge University.

"He was practicing some Shostakovich with a very bad pianist," Egarr remembers. Egarr immediately asked Manze to join his new Baroque ensemble. Today, Manze and Egarr are pioneers in presenting music on period and modern instruments.

For their latest duo recording, Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr illuminate a rarely heard side of a young Franz Schubert.

Schubert was just 19 when he started writing his first three violin sonatas. He was also deeply in love with Therese Grob, a beautiful young soprano. Schubert reveals his enthusiasm for his new found love in the first movement.

With its lively rhythm and unison textures the opening movement is reminiscent of Mozart's E minor sonata. Mozart was Schubert's idol during these early years. The tender-hearted melody in the second movement could just as easily have been written by Mozart.

Andrew Manze's lack of vibrato could generate a dry tone. Instead, it's warm and inviting. Richard Egarr's fortepiano is comparable to the instrument Schubert would have known in his day. Its sound is thinner than a modern piano. Because it has a subordinate role, the keyboard blends even more beautifully with the violin. In this performance, these two instruments are never competing, only complementing one another as they linger through each phrase.

Schubert's Sonata in G minor extends the possibilities of that key signature. The second repeat in the finale whirls the listener from a joyous ending in G major, back to a tumultuous G minor. Andrew Manze points out that this manic ending looks clumsy on paper, and it's rarely heard these days because performers often cut the repeats. On this new release, Manze and Egarr revive this stroke of genius.

Schubert was 20 years old when he composed his A major sonata. After earning great success with his first paid commission (the now lost cantata "Prometheus"), Schubert quit his teaching job, and moved to Vienna. He had no steady income so he was dependent on the hospitality of his friends. It was a stressful, but exciting time for Schubert. His new-found confidence as a composer comes through in his A major sonata. The first movement radiates with a light-hearted melody that glides along effortlessly. Manze and Egarr emphasize the triple rhythm in this sonata. Their infectious energy makes the urge to dance almost irresistible.

One thing you'll notice about this new collection of Schubert sonatas is the cathedral-like sound quality. It was recorded in a Mennonite church in the Netherlands. The sound reverberates and envelops the performers as well as the listener. It adds to the fresh approach Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr give this timeless music by Franz Schubert.

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