Our primary goal in approaching these pieces was to make informed decisions and interpretations inspired by knowledge of Schubert’s times. To this end we researched the historical context of each piece in order to know what the usual practices in interpretation were at the time of its composition. At the same time, we recorded with modern instruments and tried to incorporate our own modern esthetical understanding of the pieces into the historical frame.
Another goal was to preserve the creativity and spontaneity of live performances by capturing the natural sound of the concert hall and doing takes from whole movements or pieces during the recording. What follows is a synthetic description of certain aspects of our research and interpretive decisions.
For a violinist, one of the ways to approach the style and tonal qualities of original instruments is not to apply too much pressure with the bow. Pianists using modern instruments can approximate some of the characteristics of a pianoforte of Schubert’s time by avoiding emphasis on strong dynamics in the outer registers and thereby emulating the weaker outer register of the 5 ½ to 6 octave pianoforte.
Another issue regarding sound is the use of pedals. In Schubert’s time, the pedals were used not as a standard resource for achieving legato passages or for facilitating technical execution, but rather for subtle special effects.
Regarding the use of vibrato on the violin, we know from the treatises about interpretation that some kind of vibrato—with variations, less uniform, and probably not on every single note—was used during Schubert’s time. It is very possible that it was used as an ornamental device and not as a standard continuous addition to the sound.
It is more difficult to be certain about the meaning of Schubert’s tempi. While Schubert did not put metronome markings on any of his instrumental works, some conclusions can be drawn from the contemporary metronome markings in some of his Lieder and in the opera “Alfonso und Estrella.” There are signs indicating that many allegro movements, according to Schubert’s choice and the practice of that time in Vienna, were performed faster than what is common in today’s performances.
We understand that Schubert wrote sufficiently expressive devices for his own purposes and doesn’t need the “assistance” of too much rubato from the performer. The baritone Johann Michael Vogl (1768-1840), who was not only Schubert’s close friend but the singer whom Schubert admired above all others, nevertheless recounts that during rehearsals, Schubert would frequently admonish him with: "Kein Ritardando" or "Keine Fermate" ("No ritardando,"or "No fermata"). Schubert seems also to have desired very smooth, seamless transitions at meter changes. In a letter dated May 10, 1828, to the publisher Probst regarding the E-flat Piano Trio, D. 929, he has this to say: "See to it that really capable players are found for the first performance, and above all, where the time changes in the last section, that the rhythm is not lost." ...
Schubert played both violin and piano. His father taught him the basics of the violin, and his brother Ignaz gave him piano lessons. At the age of seven, Schubert began receiving lessons from Michael Holzer, the local church organist and choirmaster. Josef von Spaun, a law student and friend of Schubert’s at the Stadtkonvikt, wrote: “Schubert, scarcely twelve years old, played second violin in the students orchestra. His extraordinary interest in the masterworks performed, however, soon drew the attention of those around him to his superior talent and the little boy was soon installed as leader at the head of the orchestra.” In his initial grade reports from the Imperial and Royal Seminary he received the highest mark for violin. During that time Schubert also attended choir practice with his fellow pupils and played the organ. He also played the viola in his family’s string quartet with his father on cello and his brothers Ignaz and Ferdinand on violin. Ferdinand, who played first violin, wrote: “…it was an uncommon pleasure to play quartets with him…The youngest of them all was the most sensitive there.”
The purpose of this essay is to enhance the study and performance of Franz Schubert’s three major compositions for violin and piano: Duo in A major, op. posth. 162, D. 574, Rondo in B minor, op. 70, D. 895, and Fantasia in C major, op. posth. 159, D. 934. This study offers a description of the historical context and the circumstances of the composition of these pieces, presents an analysis of the form and harmonic language, and discusses recent research on aspects of Schubertian performance style that help the performer make educated interpretative decisions. This research was done prior to making a CD recording; that recording reflects the interpretative and musical understanding that has evolved from the research done for this essay. The recording has been the subject of several reviews, which are included as appendices.
“If anyone's up to the task, it's Cotik”
“Cotik…honored not only his professions as musician, but the memory and work of Franz Schubert”
“A revealing album of the mastery of the young performers who sign it ”
“absolutely impeccable, with intonation in the centre of every note, and his left hand flying around the fingerboard with remarkable agility”
“Cotik and the orchestra provided impressive advocacy for a multifaceted work that deserves to be heard more often. Cotik seamlessly handled the frequent changes in mood and adroitly traversed the work’s myriad technical challenges while always keeping the focus on the music.”
“excellent violin playing...extremely enjoyable interpretations of music that I love”
“It is the result of many years of experience, full attention, research and decision-making....it is a recording of incontestable beauty...an adventure that displays a journey of absolute love for the music of J.S. Bach”
“violinist Tomas Cotik is always up for a new challenge”
“an excellent violinist”
“brilliantly performs the complete series of sonatas composed by Mozart ... a masterful musical compendium ..... an essential, addictive set. An almost hypnotic musical journey ”
“Everyone who plays these works should hear these exemplary performances...you will never hear these Telemann Fantasias played so well ”
“Cotik Kicks Butt in Piazzolla! A wild and wonderful CD.”
“this is clearly a team to watch. I am sure we will be hearing good things from them in the future”
“a record which quality manages to propose the fascinating freshness of Germanic musical culture as new, as if the music had never been heard before ”
“His amazing technical skill and artistic know-how...create an indelible interpretation of Bach’s music...Cotik’s combines impeccable technique and an intuitive artistry to fashion a mesmerizing interpretation of these pieces.”
“ There are so many delightful details to savour that one hardly knows where to begin...a most rewarding Mozart cycle”
“The versions are optimal due to the stylistic understanding of the duo and the instrumental excellence of the admirable violinist. ”
“a treat from start to finish”
“an excellent violinist ... who picks up a rigorous, natural and unusual way of understanding and interpreting music ”
“None of these pieces has ever sounded quite like this before.”
“the brilliant musicians’ ability to shift tempos...gracefully wring emotion from heartbreaking ballad tempos or generate fireworks with breakneck riffs...”
“The technical qualities of the recording - which is on the NAXOS label, by the way - are excellent.”
“exceptional...Piazzolla can be played differently than this, but provably not better.”
“'What a Performance 2020' Award Winner”
“an exemplary presentation of marvelous music”
“brilliant Argentinean violinist”
“ Also in the interpretation of Mozart's sonatas, Cotik's excellent performance and perfect technique stand out in the particularly brilliant articulations ”
“should leave listeners almost breathless…a vibrancy and attention to detail...strong individuality and… vitality”
“there is no question that this disc is, by some distance, Naxos's best Piazzolla recording”
“The joyful virtuosity and stylish musicianship that Tomas Cotik and Tao Lin brought to their superb cycle of Schubert’s violin-and-piano works for the Centaur label happily permeate their cycle of Mozart’s sonatas”
“A neglected stash of unrecorded Schubert”
“Astor Piazzolla and its main interpreter is the Argentine violinist Tomas Cotik's ...musical maturity joins that way of feeling one's roots, which gives the experience of remoteness ”
“a musician who prepares thoroughly and has great respect for the music he performs”
“Cotik scales Bach’s solo mountain with skill. His intricate yet soulful take is assured without ever being showy.”
“I highly commend Mr. Cotik for his innovative interpretations and I hope many future audiences will experience his musical excellence”
“I marvel at the technical skill which effortlessly encompasses these deeply contrasting styles....a technical as well as expressive master stroke”
“Cotik plays with a resonant, clear and warm tone, and dynamics, phrasing and tempi are all perfectly judged...a sentiment that is clearly evident in every single track of this exemplary set”
“Cotik makes Kreisler seem almost smarmy, Isabelle Faust almost mannered, and Julia Fischer as though she's filed down the detail”
“Cotik has a consistently brilliant violinism and warm, enveloping sound ”
“there is no question but that this is the most exciting rendition of these works I’ve ever hear... this is now my benchmark performance of these works”
“true treasure...one of the latest gems to emerge from the season”
“wonderful album…impressive for the elegance and sensitivity of the interpretations”
“Cotik phrases this music with such feeling, making you wonder if it could possibly sound better in any other performance.”
“Very recently I discovered this marvel ... two extraordinary instrumentalists who, combining their talents, achieve ... something great. ”
“We encounter here an extraordinary violinist, with an overwhelming technique and a musicality; the results are excellent, with little or nothing to envy the greatest interpretations that could have ever been recorded.”
“this superbly produced Schubert disc…comes warmly commended”
“His interpretation of Bach’s sonatas and partitas his newest album in should add a notch to his reputation as a stellar violinist”
“a first-rate set of Mozart sonatas”
“this is one of the great Piazzolla discs, and in perfect sound quality, I urge you to buy it.”
“NOMINATED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL CLASSICAL MUSIC AWARDS 2018”
“This is an excellent recital. I enjoy the Piazzolla Tango Etudes more as played by Cotik than by anyone else. ”
“Cotik never indulges in violinistic brilliance at the expense of music, but he sounds consistently brilliant nevertheless.”
“Cotik sounds consistently brilliant ”
“I’ve had a listen to a few alternatives…including Isaac Stern with Daniel Baremboim and Lydia Mordkovitch, but this duo pretty much ticks all the boxes”
“The Piazzolla album is not just Cotik as brilliant interpreter, but also as creative mind.”
“Evocative concert of Jewish classical music”
“An ideal disc”
“a work of high quality, for the originality of the arrangements and especially because he is an excellent instrumentalist ”
“Cotik’s performances are full of color, possess an elegant virtuosity and above all achieve the lyrical refinement that springs from a music that catches us by its rhythmic and melodic seduction ”
“one comes away from the recording dazzled by Cotik's musicianship and technique; one is also struck by the agility of his execution, his expert command of tempo and intonation, and his ability to consistently maintain the highest level of performance ”
“My first chamber choice for the year. ”
“laudable level of technical accuracy…tenderness and warmth”
“outstanding from the very beginning”
“I find the Cotik and Lin performances most interesting and the sound on their disc is excellent”
“Cotik transcends even the profoundly meditative”
“among the very best Piazzolla albums”
“This album...immediately stands out as a recording of excellent quality. Equipped with a refined technique, Cotik interprets these masterpieces of Bach's genius with a deep sense of style thanks to an attention to phrasing ”
“Tomás Cotik’s deeply analytical playing adds to an exhilarating display of the musical wonders the composer saw in the violin”
“If you love the solo violin, you won't find a better recording to suit your tastes”
“Some of the music is sultry while other works are fast, rhythmic, and ornamented to show the exquisite virtuosity of Cotik”
“Warmly and sensitively played with beauty of tone, Cotik... captures the essence of Mozart in finely spun tone and sensitive contrasts in dynamics, rhythmic integrity, and clear phrasing. Their deeply felt rendition of this purest of music, from the carefree early sonatas to the more dramatic later opuses, is a model of transparency and genuine emotion. ”
“without a doubt, an album to get excited and listen to continuously. Pure excellence. Essential! ”
“Overall, these two discs featuring Cotik must be regarded as among the finest performances for their consistent artistry and idiomatic grasp”
“I was immediately impressed by their virtuosity and also their understanding of Piazzolla’s music. I was anxious to see them perform in person”
“Supersonic Award winner. Tomas Cotik’s Piazzolla is carnal, passionate and nowhere easy-going. Together with his group he has produced a riveting CD.”
“One imagines the Nuevo tango master would be as captivated as any listener by such exquisite performances.”
“remarkable, artistic and expressive interpretations ... at a high level and perfectly adapted to the respective styles ”
“Cotik’s performance is powerful and technically brilliant, the intonation always flawless,... fearless round, and well-balanced”
“intelligent and sensitive...glories in...colorations and shared emphasis”
“their lofty musicianship dwarfs their profound scholarship”
“the secret here...always let curiosity be a constant inspiration. If Tomas Cotik ever revisits these works on record it will be fascinating to hear the results, but it's hard to see how they could be better that this”
“clarity and tonal opulence rare in recordings of violin music”
“it is a fact that the enthusiastic performance of Argentine Tomás Cotik and the way he captures the audience is captivating”
“Argentinean violinist Tomás Cotik... is not just another violinist. He is a passionate musician who always seems to get under the skin of the music he performs”
“a new way of looking at, understanding and perceiving music from different eras”
“unusual depth and broad compass...absolutely brilliant... unmistakable vitality...optimally recorded”
“excellent Piazzollean style, which is not frequently found”
“recreating the visceral charge of Piazzolla’s legendary quintet concerts and recordings”
“The BBC Music team’s current favourites”
“short this is a great recording if you value warmth and sweetness in Mendelssohn. Here, though, nothing is forced, and, as I say, the world seems a better place.”
“His pure sound, perfect intonation and fast tempos mean that Bach’s fiendishly difficult challenges become more exposed, yet he never misses a beat. The recording….captures the golden glow of his violin… in sound that is honest and clean”
“Cotik proves to here to have conquered an impressive variety of repertoire, already now much wider than what is usual today.”
“Comparisons are inevitable; on my shelves are the Grumiaux- Haskil team, the Stern-Barenboim combination, Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu, and Zukerman and Neikrug readings. The Cotik-Lin duo can take its place among those earlier esteemed ensembles with heads held high.”
“an extraordinary performance that can stand up against any other”
“conviction, commitment, diplomacy, and character”
SCHUBERT CD nominated as RECORDING OF THE YEAR
My first chamber choice for the year. This Schubert duo album is a beautiful musical collaboration between violinist Tomas Cotik and pianist Tao Lin and one which I returned to multiple times throughout the year given its charm. Recording quality is also excellent, not too close with a nice sense of air around the performers.
Review of the Schubert CD
…an uplifting quality which is emphasised by Cotik and Lin’s lightness of touch. I’ve had a listen to a few alternatives online just to orientate myself, including Isaac Stern and Daniel Barenboim on Sony Classics and Lydia Mordkovitch and Gerhard Oppitz on Chandos, but this duo on Centaur pretty much ticks all the boxes. …his clarity of colouring and dynamic allows the piano a more equal partnership than some… Tomas Cotik and Tao Lin form a very fine duo, and with new recording projects including work for Naxos this is clearly a team to watch. I am sure we will be hearing good things from them in the future. Meanwhile this superbly produced Schubert disc, while just one in a somewhat crowded market, comes warmly commended.
Review of the Schubert CD
This survey of three large works for violin and piano by Franz Schubert is an exemplary presentation of some marvelous music…Cotik’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Miami was on these three Schubert works, and his notes for this recording are impeccably researched and gratifyingly unfussy… and carried out the results of his scholarly investigations most admirably…Tomas Cotik and Tao Lin have in their presentation of these too-often overlooked masterpieces honored not only their professions as musicians, but the memory and work of Franz Schubert.
Review of the Schubert CD
Este disco que reúne al violinista argentino Tomás Cotik y al pianista chino Tao Lin, suma a la muy buena calidad musical el interés por el repertorio abordado…Registradas en 2011 en Florida (EE. UU.), las piezas revelan un aspecto de la obra schubertiana en versiones cuidadas y sumamente atractivas para el oyente, que gracias a los intérpretes alcanzan un alto nivel artístico. Si la música de cámara de Schubert es paradigmática dentro de su rubro, si el lector ama esa música y aún no conoce estas tres obras, hacerlo mediante este disco es muy recomendable.
Review of the Schubert CD
This is a beautiful recording… Both of these musicians use modern instruments, but they do their best, without compromising expression, to approach matters of phrasing…and articulation in an early 19th Century style… Cotik and Lin also let some of the virtuosic passages (and they are devilishly difficult) operate as filigree, and they allow for a hierarchy of dramatic intensity in all the pieces (especially the Fantasy), letting the “stops” out in all the right places. These readings are free from the nonsense that I sometimes hear from young players... What I hear is excellent violin playing, excellent piano playing, and extremely enjoyable interpretations of music that I love.
You have clearly sifted much relevant historical and documentary information and attempted an enlightened, historically-informed approach to the music. Indeed I suspect you have gone further than others in this direction.... There has to be a balance between the undeniable virtuoso character of much of the music and the 'inner' spiritual quality which is present. You both hold this balance most effectively and the performances place the music credibly as a product of its time and its composer. In other words, I find the combination of brain and heart compelling. .. you capture the spirit of the music… I very much doubt that Paganini could have come near to playing this music with your understanding.
Review of the Schubert CD
They are among the most tuneful and ingratiating of all Schubert’s works, but they just don’t sit down and play themselves. The beauty is in the details, and to that extent Tomas Cotik and Lin Tao, both of whom have very active careers as chamber musicians, have been at pains to give the music the right amount of period style in order to optimally bring out its beauties. …the violin writing is usually more spare but absolutely brilliant when the violinist rises to the occasion, as Cotik does in the Rondo….The music is enchanting. The performances have unmistakable vitality, and they are optimally recorded…. So what are you waiting for?
Review of the Schubert CD
…outstanding from the very beginning… pure tone.., … boldness of gesture… should leave listeners almost breathless.…perfectly conceived ... notes don’t identify Cotik’s violin. In a way, it’s almost irrelevant, because playing of this strength would overshadow almost any instrument’s profile. Cotik and Lin make Kreisler seem almost smarmy…; the strong-minded Isabelle Faust, … almost—almost—mannered; and Julia Fischer’s with pianist Martin Helmchen on PentaTone ….as though she’s filed down the detail. …these performances should be required listening. But Cotik and Lin should also raise appreciation of those already captivated by the works’ charms to an even higher level, offering insights and vitality in almost every measure to spark their enthusiasm. Urgently recommended.
Review of the Schubert CD
The music on this disc is duet playing at a very high level. Not once in this intelligent and sensitive rendition do Cotik and Lin fall into the trap of becoming soloist and accompanist. Instead, they treat us to an equally weighted partnership that glories in changing colorations and shared emphasis. For Cotik and Lin, the Rondo in B minor is a showpiece that allows them to let the audience see what these virtuosos can do… On the whole this disc contains beautiful performances in which the violinist and pianist play as equal partners and with great musicality. I find the Cotik and Lin performances most interesting and the sound on their disc is excellent.
Review of the Schubert CD
Tomas Cotik has numerous professional dreams, the most recent of which is his sixth recording, a collection of chamber works by Franz Schubert with pianist Tao Lin. Tomas has made some intriguing discoveries about those performance practices….Violinist Tomas Cotik is always up for a new challenge. His next project with pianist Tao Lin celebrates the music of Astor Piazzolla, the most famous composer from Tomas's homeland of Argentina
Review of the Schubert CD
One of the latest gems to emerge from the season’s flowing waters is a wonderful album of violin and piano music by Franz Schubert.This initial result is impressive for the elegance and sensitivity of the interpretations. These two musicians seem particularly well matched, giving Schubert’s music gentle contours, subtly highlighting the ever-shifting textures in the accompaniment and, most important of all, letting each instrument find its voice and sing…true treasure here, beautifully executed and polished…