This is a well-constructed programme of Romantic French
violin music, carefully mixing lighter, encore style pieces with two
of the big, core repertoire sonatas. It makes for an intriguing and
highly enjoyable listen, especially when playing and recording are of
the highest standard.
To start with the two most important works on the disc,
I would say the Franck receives as good a studio rendition as I’ve encountered
for a while. My benchmark has always been Perlman and Ashkenazy’s classic
account on Decca, a big-boned, thoroughly hyper-romantic performance
that pulls no punches. The present version is very different, and presents
a viable and welcome contrast. Korcia and Luisada go much more for subtlety
and understatement, saving the virtuosic swagger and panache for the
suitable climactic points. Thus in the first movement, the gently swaying
9/8 opening is beautifully balanced between the partners, a real molto
dolce pianissimo as marked. During the build-up to the second subject,
the molto rit. is correctly left until the bar before the new
theme, which then has an overwhelming impact, Luisada unleashing the
forte e largamente asked for by the composer. This movement is,
I think, wholly successful in being seen in the wider context of the
whole work, as part of a cyclic structure, with rubato only very
tastefully employed. The turbulent, almost Lisztian second movement
allows the players to show their technical capabilities, especially
the pianist, and it is thrilling. The third movement, given the title
Recitativo-Fantasia, is like a mini-Wagnerian tone poem all of
its own, except of course that the freely improvisatory impression hides
a carefully integrated structure. Here the limpid purity of Korcia’s
violin tone really comes into its own, and he is well matched by the
subtle, chromatic wanderings of Luisada’s piano. The finale, praised
by one contemporary critic as "the best example of canon writing
since Bach", suits these players’ styles as well as any movement,
and the inexorable progress of the music, from simplicity to impassioned
climax, is wonderfully realised. This great work really is done full
justice, though it’s a pity the proof reading in the booklet wasn’t
as thorough as the playing – it refers to the Franck as "one of
the pinnacles of 18th Century music"!
The classical purity of tone and feeling for line and
structure also pay big dividends in the Fauré. His early masterpiece,
which is redolent of the composer’s first romantic ardour, is given
a reading at once poised, but also with a passionate sweep where required.
The players’ quest to eschew any unwanted sentimentality is apparent
from the start, where the Allegro molto is kept in check by the
strength of the line, rubato again kept to a minimum. The andante
is kept firmly on the move, though what a gorgeous dolcissimo
is achieved at 2.36, another example of waiting for the right moment.
The allegro vivo third movement is as nimble fingered as any,
and what the finale may lack in fiery temperament (of the sort we get
with Amoyal and Rogé on Decca) is more than compensated for in
beauty of phrasing and clarity of texture.
The smaller items are entirely appropriate and enjoyable.
The Franck Sonata is dedicated to Ysaÿe, who gave the premiere,
and his touching little Rêve d’enfant is a reminder of
a type of bitter-sweet salon piece, once very much in vogue and beloved
of violinists. The Chausson Nos souvenirs is a transcription
of one of his Quatre Mélodies Op. 8, and is again
tinged with nostalgia and longing. The Chaminade is a Kreisler transcription,
and the little-known Debussy also a transcription (Heifetz this time)
of a song based on a poem by Bourget. All are superbly done, with restraint
and poise balanced by fireworks where necessary.
A word about the packaging. RCA have gone for a four-piece
opening case, which is a nice alternative to the easily damaged plastic
jewel-case, but they should pay more attention to notes. These are not
only poorly translated and proof-read, but in places are virtually impossible
to read, being covered by masses of trendy artwork so beloved of record
companies today – you know the sort of thing, pin-up shots, moody close-ups
of the artists etc. This may, of course, have its appeal to a younger
generation, but reading well-researched liner notes is more pleasurable
to most music lovers.
Recording quality is superb throughout (Snape Maltings,
Mike Hatch), and no one interested in French violin music of the 19th
century should miss it.