The Strad Issue: January 2006
Musicians: Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin) Heinrich Schiff (cello)
Composer: Honegger, Martinu, Bach, Pintscher, Ravel

Who better to explore this forgotten corner of the string repertory than Frank Peter Zimmermann and Heinrich Schiff, two masters who have been musical partners on and off for more than 20 years? To cap it all, they are both playing Stradivari instruments made in the same year – 1711.

The discs promises much – and delivers it. It’s especially good to hear Martinu’s and Honegger’s contributions played with such conviction and sensitivity, and to see how these two composers and Ravel, all writing within ten years of each other, explore the possibilities for what might otherwise be a stark combination.

The restless, shifting lines with which Martinu’s 1927 Duo opens give way to some moments of uninhibited lushness from the players. Zimmermann throws himself into the wild Bohemian dance and the pair alternate a battery of triplets as the music becomes increasingly frenzied.

Honegger’s Sonatine, written five years later, is played with tremendous energy and precision, with briskly articulated rhythms; at times an almost orchestral richness is achieved.

Still more possibilities are explored in Matthias Pintscher’s spectral Study I of 2004. It’s hard to believe all these eerie, insect-like sounds stem directly from the two stringed instruments, though harmonics, tremolo and sul ponticello techniques are recognisable.

Ravel’s Sonata (1922) again shows off the pair’s extreme sensitivity to phrasing and dynamics. The Lent movement is particularly moving, with the two playing in poignantly sweet harmony.

Although the recording is excellent and balance impeccable, the reverberance of the church acoustic can sometimes make the string sound a little hard on the ears.