The Boundless Wonder of Schubert: a new CD from Carrettín and Gajić
A CD review by Betsy Schwarm
Given current events, some may see accidental irony in the title of this delightful new recording of Schubert’s Sonatinas for violin and piano, Boundless, with Zachary Carrettín and Mina Gajić. After all, “Boundless” can’t entirely describe the day-to-day activities of many, many millions of people living on lockdown in the face of COVID-19. However, Schubert’s music is certainly ‘boundless’ in its ability to provide pleasure for listeners and performers alike, as it has done for nearly 200 years. Given “social distancing,” a live concert of the three sonatinas was impossible, though with a commercial recording already in the works, the artists knew they could still reach out to listeners, bringing Schubert’s genius into our newly confined existence.
Violinist Zachary Carrettín is music director of the Boulder Bach Festival; pianist Mina Gajić is the Festival’s artistic director. They are also husband and wife, which certainly simplifies ensemble practice. This is crucial in successful interpretations of Schubert’s sonatinas, which are best served by balanced interplay between the two players, especially in passages in which a motif stated in one part is immediately restated in the other. The most successful performances tend to come when there is an emotional connection between performers, an agreement as to what exact shade of green – or blue or mauve or whatever color you choose – is desired. This Carrettín and Gajić provide in abundance.
Schubert’s fame was largely posthumous, the great majority of his music coming to print only after his tragically premature death in 1828 at the age of thirty-one. Amongst these initially overlooked masterpieces are the Sonatinas, op. 137, composed in 1816. In these works, Schubert stops short of requiring flamboyantly virtuosic technique. The notes on the page are straight-forward enough, as the composer fully understood the wisdom of writing both for a wider audience and a wider range of performers. Nonetheless, though it is not music Paganini would have composed or performed, it is certainly music that benefits from subtlety of expression.
Consider the opening Allegro molto movement of the Sonatina no. 1 in D major, op. 137. Schubert has crafted a principal melody and accompaniment of effortless good cheer – or, at least, good cheer that is best served by sounding effortless. If it sounds forced, the results might become leaden, sinking to the ground when it should be wafting on the breeze of a spring morning. Carrettín and Gajić excel at bringing that desired airiness to the music, or, in the sometimes more serious second and third sonatinas, degree of sobriety. Schubert shifts his focus, and so do these performers; thus, so can we as listeners.
If the words “Schubert” and “chamber music” bring to mind for you principally the sorrows and anxieties of his Death and the Maiden String Quartet no. 14, the sonatinas are something rather different. They predate that formidable string quartet by nearly a decade; not only was Schubert not yet twenty when he composed the sonatinas, he was also still in fine health and perhaps optimistic about the possibility of a successful career. When necessary, he shows that he can manage the angst of the Sturm und Drang movement, but has no desire to be engulfed in it. Carrettín and Gajić readily bring out the tears when they are there. Nonetheless, the optimism is rarely long absent, and one would be hard-pressed to point a finger at any expressive opportunity that they missed.
Gajić performs on an 1835 Érard piano, postdating Schubert’s life, but contemporaneous with the belated publication of the music. It’s a Parisian piano, rather than a Viennese one, though, Schubert often composed for the small gatherings that Parisian society would take to calling musical “salons.” In such a setting, the formidable voice of a Steinway or even a Broadwood would be unsuitable. So Gajić’s chosen piano and the touch that she brings to it are ideal for the music. Moreover, Carrettín’s Kinberg violin needn’t struggle against a thunderously-voiced concert grand.
Carrettín and Gajić have a diverse repertoire, not only as co-directors of the Boulder Bach Festival, but also performing comparatively recent works of Antheil, Berg, and Bartók. Schubert requires a lighter touch than any of those last three, though a more lyrical flow than most of Bach. In this new recording, the artists prove that they can readily adapt their technique to the demands of varied composers. In these sonatinas, smiles, serenity, and sorrows are all present, as well as exuberance and excitement, just as Schubert imagined. The Sono Luminus release Boundless offers all of that and more. Those who know the music will find familiar delights; those less familiar with Schubert’s sonatinas can anticipate a pleasurable new discovery.
To purchase the Boundless CD, click on links below:
Physical CD from Sono Luminus:https://www.sonoluminus.com/store/boundless