CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Sonata n.1 for Violin and Piano in D minor Op.75
1. I Allegro Agitato - Adagio
2. II Allegretto moderato - Allegro molto

RICHARD STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E Flat Major Op.18
3. I Allegro, ma non troppo
4. II Improvisation: Andante cantabile
5. III Finale: Andante - Allegro

 

Fanfare Magazine, Maria Nockin, May 2013

“Portuguese artists Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos are becoming well known for their passionate interpretations of music for violin and piano. On this CD they play Camille Saint-Saens Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op 75, and Richard Strauss Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18. Saint- Saëns wrote his first violin sonata in 1885, when he was enjoying the fullness of his creative life. His next works were The Carnival of the Animals and his third symphony. He dedicated the sonata to Franz Liszt and we can hear some allusions to Liszt’s sonorities in it. Monteiro and Santos play the two movements with conviction and panache and they make the music seem much simpler than it really is. Communication between them is always instantaneous, but that is probably because they often work together. They occupy equal sound placement on the disc, too, which is important to the realization of this music. They play the tricky rhythms of the first part of the second movement with consummate style. You want to look for tiny magical creatures dancing on the ceiling when you listen to it. Then comes the more difficult section, but it does not bother these musicians in the least. They never slow down and they toss it off as gingerly as a simple etude. Santos has wonderful articulation and manages to keep each note separate no matter how fast he plays. Monteiro has burnished golden tones and he imparts a great deal of emotional warmth in his playing.
Midori and Robert McDonald played this piece on their French Violin Sonatas album for Sony in 2002. They also give a fine performance, but the piano is a bit too far forward for my taste. Gil Shaham and Gerhard Oppitz recorded it in fantastic style and with consummate grace in 1991, but the sound is a bit out of date. the real competition is Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk’s 2012 rendition on Sony Masterworks. It really does capture the elusive charm of Saint-Saens music. Richard Strauss wrote his sonatas in 1887 and 1888 when he was falling in love with the soprano who would eventually become his wife, Pauline de Ahna. He had just written incidental music for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and would soon write the unforgettable art song, Breit über mein Kopf. This sonata has three movements and begins in a somber mood, which gradually lightens to the point of jubilation at the finale. Monteiro’s violin has a lush sound, particularly in the lower strings. He and Santos always convey the charms of romantic music like this and they almost outdo each other in emotional expression. On an EMI disc released in 2000, Sarah Chang and Wolfgang Sawallisch take a conservative approach to Strauss’s music and lose the opportunity to excite the listener. Vadim Repin and Boris Beresovsky do not fare much better with their 2001 rendition on Elektra because they seem to lose much of Strauss’s charm and romance. One must congratulate Monteiro and Santos for having the courage to compete with other fine artists in recording this beautiful music. We do need several renditions of it in order to appreciate different interpretations of these pieces".

 

Fanfare Magazine, Lynn René Bayley, May 2013

"Here young Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro presents us with an interesting pairing of late-Romantic French and German sonatas played with his by-now-familiar combination of sweet and sour tone. There is never any question with Monteiro as to his complete musical absorption of the material or the passion and sweep of his performances, only the occasionally edgy timbre, but by and large his sound is sweeter here than in some of his other releases.
I’ve come to accept that Monteiro is our modern-day Bronislaw Huberman, thus it might be instructive to explain some of the similarities and differences. Like Huberman, Monteiro plays everything with a smoldering intensity and employs portamento— less than Huberman, whose style seemed to be built around this device, but more than most modern violinists use (note, particularly, the opening movement of the Strauss sonata). Monteiro, like Huberman, also has an unusually dark, almost viola-like lower register that I find immensely appealing. Huberman played a great deal with straight tone, only using vibrato for sustained notes, much like violinists of the 18th and early 19th centuries, whereas Monteiro uses a rather lush vibrato throughout. Possibly because of this, Monteiro lacks something I’m actually happy about, which is Huberman’s penchant for occasionally scratchy sound (more prevalent on his 1940s broadcasts than his earlier studio recordings). Monteiro also lacks Huberman’s astonishing runs, pizzicato and spiccato technique (one critic admiringly described Huberman’s spiccato as “almost vicious”) as well as a remarkable stylistic similarity to Gypsy violinists. But of course everyone is different, and if Monteiro sounded exactly like Huberman one would be prone to label him a copycat and not an original, which he most certainly is. Moreover, Monteiro’s lack of a Gypsy-like bowing technique is not a detriment, as I always felt this was the reason for Huberman’s occasional scratches on the strings. Both violinists approach a piece with a sense of not only drama but as a momentous occasion, but Monteiro is more continent in his consistently flowing sound (like a never-ending stream from first note to last) whereas Huberman could break the line to emphasize the drama more strongly.
Between the two sonatas, I felt Monteiro was even stronger in the Strauss than the Saint-Saëns, bringing out tremendous drama and “building” the music up to and away from emotional peaks. In this respect, Monteiro reminded me of another past violinist, Toscha Seidel, Heifetz’s fellow-pupil in Leopold Auer’s class who was, in fact, Auer’s first choice to send to America (he then changed his mind and sent Heifetz). Seidel also possessed a dark, viola-like tone, in fact even darker than either Huberman or Monteiro, but as I listened to the latter play the Strauss I was reminded of the descriptions of how Seidel played. He would pace up and down the stage like a panther, head cocked slightly down as if listening intently to himself, so wrapped up in his violin that the audience did not exist. I don’t know if Monteiro’s stage demeanor is like this, but particularly in the Strauss sonata, that was my impression.
In my zeal to laud Monteiro I should not overlook the excellent playing of pianist Santos, though to be honest he functions here primarily as a bolster to the violinist, occasionally coming forward as a participant in the ongoing musical drama (particularly in the second movement of the Strauss, where he is in fact quite wonderful), but that is the nature of today’s world of accompanists, not to be too strong a player. The sound quality of this disc is also remarkably natural, capturing the full sound of both instruments with stunning fidelity".

 

Gramophone, Ivan March, April 2013

Portuguese violinist Monteiro echoes Little´s recente CD

“This new coupling by Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos of Strauss´s Violin Sonata with the D minor work by Saint-Saëns makes a fascinating comparison with the Tasmin Little/Piers Lane coupling of the Strauss with Respighi, so diferente in its forward impluse: Little and Lane play the Strauss Sonata in a comparatively restrained way, yet still full of Romantic emotional feeling in the early movements, followed by and agitato finale. Their warmly affectionate lyrical style, full of a natural spontaneity, recalls Strauss´s own recitals with his wife, Pauline. This yearning delicacy of impetus, with its moments of sheer passion and virtuosity, is quite diferente from Monteiro´s approach, so full of verve and boldness, echoed by his pianist, and tending to sweep listeners off their feet. A similar difference is felt in the playing of the couplings, just as diverse in character.
Saint- Saëns ´s First Violin Sonata was a complete surprise to me – as played here, quite unlike the Piano Concertos. In his day, Saint- Saëns was regarded as France´s greatest composer; and in listening to this two- movement sonata,with its powerful, thrustful outer sections, one can understand way, and can appreciate why the composer´s compatriots were bowled over by such compulsive writing.
Again, the difference in Little´s alternative coupling of Respighi´s rhapsodic Violin Sonata and the charmingly lightweight Six Pieces is striking, especially when they are so beautifully played, with fine support form Lane. So choise between this two discs is difficult to make: they both have many of their own virtues".

 

Strings Magazine, Greg Cahill, April 2013

"The pair of iconic Romantic-era works featured on this disc are like ships passing in the night: Camille Saint-Saens’ Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano in D minor, Op. 75, was written in 1885 at the French composer’s creative peak; while Richard Strauss’ Sonata for violin and piano in E-flat major, Op. 18, composed between 1887 and 1888, is one of the German composer’s earliest, youthful pieces. In the hands of the talented Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro, accompanied by the equally gifted pianist Joao Paulo Santos, they receive an emotionally sensitive, richly balanced, and lyrically reading that captures all the elegance, storminess, wistfulness, and power found in these broadly painted chamber works. Monteiro brings a warm, beautiful, singing tone to these recordings and casts a radiant glow over complex emotions expressed in these works".

 

The Strad, Edward Bhesania, March 2013

"Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro completed is studies in the US and this is his seventh recital disc, following releases of Grieg, Franck, Fauré, Respighi, Prokofieff and others. The pairing on this release is interesting not only for its stylistic contrast but also in that Saint-Saëns came to the violin sonata age 50, while Strauss ebullient work dates from his twenties. Technically all is present and correct. (…) Monteiro responds better to the full blooded Romanticism of Strauss´s Sonata, and it´s more fluid form helps in to trace the contours of the work. He is clearly excited by what must be one of the most gratifying of all violin melodies, in the second movement. Monteiro is in suitable ardent, heroic mode in the finale, but there is strong competition – not least from Sarah Chang and Tasmin Little – even in this relatively rarely heard work".

 

Classical.net, Brian Wigman, February 2013

"There is some absolutely lovely music making to be cherished here. Saint-Saëns and Strauss probably look like odd bedfellows even on disc, but the program is a convincing argument that the pairing works. These well respected Portuguese artists play with flair and commitment, and I found myself excited by the music in a way that chamber music – which came late to me as an interest – rarely inspires in me.
The notes credit Saint-Saëns with bringing chamber music back into the French musical scene, and if that's so, we have much to be thankful for. This absolutely delicious sonata in D Minor has all the fabled refinement of that French master, in such an intimate setting that you have to wonder why these works fail to be better known. A guitarist friend of mine called D minor "the saddest key in all of music", and while I'd usually agree with that assessment, Saint-Saëns goes in a different direction. It's wistful music, to be sure, but with a smile. The first movement simply beguiles; I dare you not to like this. The jaunty dance of a second movement allows Santos and Monteiro to show off, and the word here is "fun". It reminds me of the Carnival of the Animals, which again makes its underexposure all the more baffling. The final movement is very, very French – here a good thing, to be sure – and entirely charms. Like most of Saint-Saëns, it doesn't take a ton of musical risks, but taken as a whole it's a piece entirely worth knowing and loving.
Richard Strauss is certainly a composer who did take risks, although his early and late works both mellow considerably. The two-movement sonata here is a very early work, and one of his last chamber works before shocking the world with his operas and tone poems. It too is delightful, with a longing and sweet first movement that could even be mistaken for Brahms in some places. I'm less convinced by the second movement, which simply lacks enough contrast from the first movement (and contrast within the movement itself). If I'm less enthusiastic about it as a whole than the Saint-Saëns, that stems from the fact that it just isn't truly great music. Santos and Monteiro clearly believe in the piece, and the sonata is preferable to the same composer's somewhat lacking violin concerto, but as a whole the piece isn't a top choice for a violin sonata.
Santos and Monteiro are both outstanding artists. (…) Still, for the Saint-Saëns alone, this disc is a keeper".

 

Jornal de Letras, Maria Augusta Gonçalves, February 2013

"The two works (Saint-Saëns/Strauss) witness the complicity of the two musicians – who have been working together for over a decade -, their taste for the romantic repertoire, how brilliantly and passionately they approach them. The recording dates from 2007 – nearly six years ago -, but it is absolutely untainted. Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos, who interpreted the works in public, wisely balance reason and emotion, between the colours and the subtlety of the details, which define the Saint- Saëns environment and the grand and eloquent gestures of Strauss.
After César Franck and Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson and Eugene Ysaÿe, chosen for the previous recordings, Saint- Saëns represents, in a way, the French composer who was missing (on a record), in order to place Monteiro among the artists who best knows the repertoire, together with the piano of João Paulo Santos. At the same time, the choice for Richard Strauss after Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, confirms the emotional strength, the brilliance and the clarity with which both face the German repertoire".

 

MusicWeb International, Byzantion, January 2013

"Two unalike but beautiful Violin Sonatas are united on this new release by the Portuguese multi-genre label CNM, almost for the first time: veteran American violinist Aaron Rosand's recording with Seymour Lipkin on Audiofon (72026) back in 1990 may well be the only other. That disc also included Grieg's C minor Sonata, and for a while Rosand's recording probably enjoyed a sizeable presence in the market as it was then. Nowadays there are so many more recordings available of these two works of course, that this recital by Portuguese natives Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos may struggle to find a foothold. By pure bad luck it must compete not only against the new Chandos recording of the Strauss (with works by Respighi) by Tasmin Little and Piers Lane (CHAN 10749), but also Maria Bachmann and Adam Neiman's Saint-Saëns (with Debussy and Franck) just released on Bridge (9394) - itself coming within a few months of Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk's widely acclaimed recording of the Saint-Saëns with Ravel and Franck.
In other words, Monteiro, Paulo Santos and CNM certainly like a challenge! (…) Nonetheless, all is not lost: after all, the music is the thing. There is no question about the quality and broad appeal of these two Sonatas, and the performances themselves are very persuasive. Monteiro is one of Portugal's top violinists, and he and Paulo Santos have performed and recorded together many times, developing a good rapport that approaches telepathy. Monteiro consistently strikes an almost ideal balance between the expressive and the intellectual, especially in Saint-Saëns' masterpiece. His tone is warm but never saccharine against the cool neutrals of Paulo Santos's pianism, and as a team they offer, for anyone who has forgotten quite how brilliant the D minor Sonata is, an insistent reminder. The two of them have already demonstrated an affinity for French music in their recording for Centaur of Chausson's Poème and his Concerto in D, the latter performed with the Lopes-Graça Quartet (CRC 3120). On the other hand, their Schumann disc released last year, also on Centaur, showed that they also have the emotional wherewithal to tackle the Germanic repertoire; and so it proves in Strauss's Sonata, all but his last word in chamber music, and a deceptively demanding work - technically and psychologically - that gives Monteiro and Paulo Santos a chance to dazzle. Sound quality is good, the church ambience spacious and pleasantly humid".

 

Jornal de Notícias, Rui Branco, 12/1/2012

"Particularly productive recording duo, which releases now two Sonatas by Camille Saint-Saëns and Richard Strauss respectively, paradigmatic works of the romantic period. Again, the highlight here is the virtuosity of violinist Bruno Monteiro, complemented by João Paulo Santos fine playing. For a cared hearing, and preferably, repeated".

 

Musical Opinion, Eve Edwards, December 2012

"This latest recording reinforces the impression made by the violinist´s recent CD of music by Chausson- and is cleverly chosen to appeal to those who bought the earlier disc. Very well recorded, these artists obviously have the chamber music of this period close to their hearts".

 

Musical Opinion, James Palmer

*****
“both works here are wonderfully well performed, and finely recorded with a natural balance that is impressive". (Saint-Saens/Strauss Violin Sonatas)".