The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Kaori Yamada (violin) Sholto Kynoch (piano) Rhona McKail (soprano) Nicky Spence (tenor)
Composer: Messiaen, Schoenberg, Schubert

Based around the idea of musical fantasy, this ingenious programme offsets the music of one of France’s most inspired and overtly sensual ‘fantasists’ against the heightened formal rigour and indomitable focus of Schoenberg’s Phantasy and Schubert’s fantasy–sonata hybrid, behind whose engaging, song-like innocence lies the seeds of the 19th-century’s obsession with cyclic structural procedures.  

Kaori Yamada, a former pupil of Detlef Hahn at the Guildhall School and recently appointed sub-principal first violin of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, possesses a small-scale, unforced cantabile that matches the gentle espressivo of Messiaen’s early (1933) Fantaisie to perfection. The distinctive unison outburst premonitory of the Quatuor pour le fin du temps might ideally have been dispatched with greater thrust, yet both here and in the more familiar Thème et variations, she floats Messiaen’s sustained lines of ecstatic lyricism most persuasively. However, it is the Schoenberg that turns out to be the real star item, in which Yamada manages to integrate the Phantasy’s wide-ranging expressive parameters so that it feels as though it was conceived in one blinding flash of inspiration.

It is the hypnotic purity of Schubert’s inspiration that registers most potently in Yamada’s supremely lyrical, deeply poetic account of the D934 Fantasy. The sense of ‘belonging’ she imparts to the piece as a whole is also highly persuasive. Sholto Kynoch accompanies throughout most sympathetically, although the otherwise truthful recording might have benefited from a slightly more generous ambiance.