Deutsche Grammophon 427617-2
Kyung Wha Chung, violin. Krystian Zimerman, piano (1988)
Strauss made this his last stab at the classical sonata for sixty years, before he embarked on his career of tone poems, songs, and operas. It is a wholly successful try, technically and musically the most distinguished of the early chamber works. Unlike the cello sonata or the last movement of the piano quartet, this work doesn't thrash about in the development for lack of ideas or in the preparation for recapitulation – the two main weaknesses of Strauss' early work. Instead, Strauss seems at ease and capable of anything. In the first movement, an expanded harmonic palette and greater reliance on enharmonic modulation gives us a sense, for the first time, of the composer of the great tone poems. The themes immediately grab your attention, and they play out with imagination. The slow movement is again based on Mendelssohnian song without words and the most strongly tied to the 19th-century salon (a passage of quasi-Chopin appears at the middle), but Strauss' harmonies are far more complex. The finale sounds as if it could have fit into Don Juan. This is the first wholly mature instrumental work and deserves far more performances and recordings than it gets.
Chung and Zimerman give a superb reading. Both lovingly detail each phrase and play over a wide emotional range without pushing into bombast. Zimerman in the second movement handles the Chopinesque figurations with great delicacy and without preciousness. Above all, both musicians project the structural strengths of each movement. A superior account in every way.
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