Magazine article Gramophone

Violin-and-Piano Recitals: Richard Bratby Listens to Five New Recordings of Sonatas from the Late 19th and 20th Centuries, Featuring Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Others

Magazine article Gramophone

Violin-and-Piano Recitals: Richard Bratby Listens to Five New Recordings of Sonatas from the Late 19th and 20th Centuries, Featuring Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Others

Article excerpt

Francis Poulenc didn't like violin sonatas. 'The prima donna violin over an arpeggio piano accompaniment makes me want to vomit,' he wrote to a friend, round about the time that he completed his own solitary essay in the form in 1943. What would he think about his sonata being the first item on a disc by violinist Irene Duval and pianist Pierre-Yves Hodique that includes both Chausson's Poeme (in an arrangement by Hodique) and that glorious belle epoque warhorse, Fame's A major Violin Sonata probably the very work Poulenc had in mind when he decried 'the endless violin-melodic line sonatas written in France in the 19th century'?

Actually, in this context, I suspect he'd have been flattered. Poulenc's Sonata--conceived as a homage to the murdered Lorca--finds its own form and voice: brilliant, bitter, light on its feet. The medium of solo string instrument and piano--inherently more stable than the high-wire act of an unaccompanied string sonata but still more intimate than any other chamber combination--has a knack of revealing the personality of composer and performers alike, and like all the discs under review here,

Duval and Hodique's recital doubles as a self-portrait. From Poulenc it moves through Szymanowski and Chausson towards the Faure and a final item--Ernst's ingenious 'Grand Caprice' on Schubert's 'Erlkonig'--that nicely points up the sense of musical storytelling that underpins the duo's playing. The acoustic is close and dry (practically linen-cupboard) but one doubts Poulenc would have objected, and it suits these playful, salon-scale performances rather well. Duval and Hodique create a world and draw you in.

It's a striking contrast to a superficially similar programme by the Swedish violinist Christian Svarfvar and pianist Roland Pontinen. They begin with the same Faure sonata, in a sweeping, symphonic reading captured by BIS's engineers in a generous concert-hall acoustic. If Duval and Hodique's performance feels private, this is very public, and Svarfvar and Pontinen use it as a launching pad for a musical journey into ever more exotic climes. A tiny Morceau de lecture written by Faure as a Conservatoire sight-reading test becomes a subtle, oddly seductive study in modulation, while Debussy's pungent arrangement of his own 'Minstrels' makes Heifetz's transcription of 'Beau soir' sound positively restrained. Ravel's Sonata closes the disc; and if the playing feels at times almost too poised and glassily perfect, this account certainly captures the sheer strangeness and originality of Ravel's imagination. Pontinen, in particular, responds with playing of limpid, crystalline beauty.

There seems to be something very personal, too, about the pianist Susanne Lang's advocacy of the Russian emigre composer Yevgeny Gunst (1877-1950). This nicely presented disc features personal reminiscences and photographs alongside unaffected performances of several of Gunst's salon pieces, for which Lang is joined by the violinist Elena Denisova. There's nothing here that would have startled Mendelssohn, apart from a solo piano transcription of Gunst's Symphonie fantastique, Op 18: 17 minutes of Scriabinesque meandering that reminded me of Tovey's comment on Liszt's Bergsymphonie: 'an introduction to an introduction to a connecting link to another introduction'. …

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