Beauty, Pain, and Strength: Carolin Widmann and Alexander Lonquich perform a Fantasy, Rondo, and Sonata by Franz Schubert

By Daniel Garrett

Carolin Widmann and Alexander Lonquich, Franz Schubert: Fantasie D-Dur,
Rondo h-Moll, Sonate A-Dur
Produced by Manfred Eicher
ECM Records, 2012

Franz Schubert’s five-part “Fantasie C-Dur” (or “Fantasy), as played by the duo of violinist Carolin Widmann and pianist Alexander Lonquich, begins with a piano rumble and long, slow violin notes, creating the taut drama of two solitudes sharing divergent sounds; and then there is a quickening of rhythm on violin, with dancing piano notes—a lot of sparkling energy and light fluttering and waltzing, of extraordinary intensity; and, in the lengthy third part of the fantasy, the piano is relatively somber, like slow walking, before the violin joins and its sound begins to rise, and the music seems to move from the mellow to the heavy to the cheery, containing a kind of dreamy chase, something adventurous, rushing, irresistible; and the violin slows while the piano remains playful before there is an increase in intensity; then the music evolves into an intense and dancing melody, with repeated rising and falling of sound, a slight interlude, and a grand climax.

“There is ambivalence in Schubert, pain and beauty expressed with the same intensity,” Carolin Widmann has been quoted as saying.  “I can hear the Austrian countryside in his music when I’m playing and at the same time this feeling of reaching for the heavens.”  Widmann, born in Munich, studied in Cologne, Boston, and London, and has performed with orchestras in several of the world’s great cities, such as Paris, Rome, and Vienna; and with Alexander Lonquich, who was born in Trier, a prodigy who has become an international performer and conductor, Widmann has chosen to explore Schubert music of beauty, emotion, technique, and thought.  The “Rondo h-Moll” has an exalted, even extreme beauty, and the “Sonate A-Dur” (or “Sonata”) creates in the listener an alternative consciousness.

Franz Schubert, an early nineteenth-century composer, born in Vienna, was a schoolmaster’s son, a songwriter, and teacher, who wrote many of his best songs—admired for both words and music—before Franz Schubert was twenty; and Schubert, influenced by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn, is known for songs such as “The Diver” and “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel,” operas (one is The Devil’s Pleasure Castle), and the Tragic Symphony and the Unfinished Symphony, much of which is characterized by attention to impulse and novel quality, romantic elements.

Dramatically heavy piano notes and a stinging violin start the two-part “Rondo h-Moll,” achieving great beauty, and a change in tempo and volume feels as if a new depth has been found, a new concentration, and then the pace quickens and volume thickens, slows, thins, and the pattern goes back and forth; and the longer second part of the rondo has short, fast rhythms of intensity, and a wonderful elaboration of sound, complex, imaginative, unpredictable, requiring alertness for perception and comprehension.  The four-part “Sonate A-Dur” (or “Sonata”) begins with intensity and volume, especially from the violin, which seems dominant with the piano as support—and then the piano emerges more strongly, and a dancing rhythm is created, and, subsequently, something mellow but with an edge.  The second part of the sonata is fast and intense thanks to both violin and piano, and a shift becomes more sonorous but not less intense; and the sonata’s third part lowers the pace and volume, with the piano providing accents for the strings, then moving away dramatically, with the strings performing what seems a whirling three-part rhythm; and the sonata’s fourth part shifts in rhythm, with the violin rising sharply, and the sound becomes a hard scampering.  There is unusual strength where one did not expect to find it.

Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist magazine Changing Men, founded and acted as principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader.  Daniel admires classic and modern literature and philosophy, and likes painting and sculpture, French film, Afghan and Indian food, jazz, rock, and world music; and his writing has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics.