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Jennifer Frautschi and John Blacklow take on Schumann at Phillips Collection

By Robert Battey,

The three violin sonatas of Robert Schumann do not make for a well-rounded meal by themselves, but when offered with such spice, such care in preparation and served at just the right temperature, as Jennifer Frautschi and John Blacklow did Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection, one doesn’t mind.

This expert performance confirmed that the final sonata, a hybrid work created from an earlier hybrid work and written one year before Schumann suffered a mental collapse, is not a fully successful piece. The inspiration is still there in the basic musical ideas, but the construction is more discursive and meandering, the climaxes feeling a little tired.

Frautschi uses every centimeter of bow, creating a churning, high-octane sound that is clean and colorful; her intonation is excellent, adding all possible overtones to the mix. The violinist’s only drawback is a vibrato whose intensity borders on the febrile. Once in a long while, Schumann just writes a simple melody, such as in the intermezzo from the Third Sonata, but Frautschi’s sound never fully relaxes.

In this program, however, that was a minor drawback because so much of this music expresses the fevered passions that were beginning to consume the composer. And it was in the obsessive, repetitive patterns, especially in the finales of the first two sonatas, where the artists’ sensitivity, virtuosity and imagination were huge pluses. Pianist Blacklow played full-out, sometimes threatening to cover his partner, but she seemed to relish the challenge. Although their musical pacing was somewhat bland and singsong in the opening movement of the First Sonata, there was wonderful freedom on full display elsewhere.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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