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CD Feature/ Duo Scherzer-Schröder: "Beethoven & Mendelssohn-Bartholdy"

img  Tobias

Chris Rea once moaned about the long marketing cycles in the pop- and rock-business. Chances are high that he would cry at the story of this CD: The Duo Scherzer-Schröder recorded the first of these four Sonatas for Violin and Piano on June 6th 1971, the last on June 15th 1977 and then saw the album released in August of 2007. Effectively, this collection of Beethoven and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy is a document from another time. 

On the other hand, of course, it is not. I always find it hard to understand why the classical world is treating archival releases so very differently from regular ones. Once the master tapes have been sleeping in some basement for a couple of years, it seems, the press immediately eyes them with a look of distrust: Was it really necessary to wake them from their slumber? Record companies have consequently started to adapt to these questions by labelling their records with stickers celebrating the historical relevance of their rediscovered treasures – instead of simply allowing the music to speak for itself.  

Which is why, in this particular case, one could, but shouldn’t necessarily dwell on the collector’s value of the Duo Scherzer-Schröder’s rendition of the “Sonata f major” for hours. Written by Mendelssohn in 1838, it was only premiered by Yehudi Menuhin in 1953 – talking about long delays! Menuhin might have naturally felt drawn to the piece, since it had been composed the same year as the famous Violin Concerto, which the virtuoso (and his close friend Daniel Hope) especially loved. Whether or not the score really beares some thematic resemblances to that classic composition, as the booklet claims, is another question, though, which I am personally not so sure of. 

Because Mendelssohn, as always extremely critical of himself and his work, started revising the Sonata, the world therefore assumed  that there were in fact two different version available at the time of his death: The first draft – which Mendelssohn didn’t like anymore – and the revision – which remained only partially completed. And yet, there was more, as Manfred Scherzer found out. Fighting his way through the dust of old books, he discovered the autograph of the revised score in all of its integral glory, adding another noteworthy piece to the composer’s oeuvre.  

Does this rediscovery merrit buying this CD on its own? It certainly has a lot going for it: A lyrical and lively opening movement with lots of loveable shadings, an introvert “Adagio” with a Bach-like circular movement as well as a lightning-speed finale with the occasional folk-touch. Within its barely twenty minutes, the piece offers a bustling stylistic mix and plenty of space for emotional and timbral contrasts. On the other hand, noone will seriously claim that the work will drastically change or sharpen our image of the composer, nor knock this planet off its axis.  

Not that it needs to, for the Duo Scherzer Schröder has a lot more up their sleeves than revelling in their novelty. Sprung from the music scene of the GDR, these two musicians would quickly turn into important figures in their country: Scherzer as founder of the “Dresdner Kammerorchester” and the “Berliner Virtuosen”, among others, and Jürgen Schröder as a Piano Professor, shaping the profiles of artists such as Siiri Schütz and Christiane Klonz. This recording captures them at their prime. In 1977, Scherzer had only just been nominated for a position at the Academy of Music in Dresden and his violin performance is full of self-confidence, abrasive expressiveness, headstrong zest and energy. It makes for an unusual, but stimulating contrast with Schröder’s delicate and airy piano drops.  

Which is why the slower movements are never fully elegiac and dreamy and the past passages carry a touch of tenderness in them as well. It is also why the renditions always sound well-thought and clear, instead of impulsive and emphatic and why the chambermusical factor is always stronger than orchestral ambitions. In their approach, the Duo has a knack for a traditional role allocation. The accompanying voice really holds back and allows the soloist to flourish. Some will consider this overly conservative and cool. But it can not be denied that Scherzer and Schröder are using this precondition to achieve exciting effects: Their instruments take turns, pass each other ideas, run freely and then closely together and sometimes throw in an unfinished phrase for the other to complete. What weighs considerably in this respect is the fact that the result suggests that the composers wanted it exactly that way.  

The historical value of this release is possibly not its strongest point. What is, however, is the fact that it tells us a lot about its protagonists and their approach to interpretation. It is a personal rediscovery, a private statement calmly beckoning its public. “Beethoven & Mendelssohn-Bartholdy” may not be state of the art. But it has waited long enough to know that doesn’t matter.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Claxl Records 

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