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Somei SATOH (b.1947)
Birds in Warped Time II (date of composition not given) [10:24]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Sonata for violin and piano (ca. 1915) [12:00]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)

Thème et Variations (1932) [7:09]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)

Distance de Fée (1951) [6:18]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Sonata for violin and piano (1923-27) [16:55]
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
Li Jian, piano
Recorded on 27 and 28 August 2002 at Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Massachusetts DDD
AVIE 0024 [52:54]


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With dozens of fine recordings of the sonatas of Debussy and Ravel available, a record label needs one of two things to justify another release: a star performer with a unique interpretation, or some interesting filler works to make the duplication worthwhile. Avie, in this impressive release by Anne Akiko Meyers and Li Jian, have lots of the former, and enough of the latter to make it work.

Opening with Somei Satoh’s Birds in Warped Time II, Ms. Meyers and Mr. Li set an atmospheric stage, one that entices us to listen. A dreamy, new-agey piece of ear candy, this is a work that runs out of ideas before it runs out of notes. Nonetheless, the performers deliver a sincere rendition, and there is a relaxing, ethereal quality to the playing. The best, though, is yet to come.

Little need be said about the merits of the sonatas by impressionist masters Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. They have long been established in the repertoire, and I for one will say without hesitation that they are two of the greatest works in the genre. Why then, record them again. In this case, the answer is self-evident. Ms. Meyers and Mr. Li play them with a Parisian panache that is breathtaking. Urgent, playful and oh-so refined, these are some of the finest readings that I have ever heard of what are indeed two of my favorite pieces of chamber music. These performances capture beautifully the spirit of the café society of the roaring twenties. Of particular merit is the manner with which Ms. Meyers handles the bluesy/jazzy elements of the pieces. The second movement of the Ravel is in points downright racy. This is quite an accomplishment.

Rounding out the program is an early Theme and Variations set by Olivier Messiaen, who in his later years was consistently guilty of long, rambling and self-indulgent works that were veiled in the cloak of mysticism. This is a taut work and the influence of Ravel is obvious. Lyrical and to the point, it is a worthy piece and a nice, well-executed addition to this recital.

Toru Takemitsu is famously quoted as saying that the Japanese do not understand "allegro." Thus, much of his music is calm and slow of tempo. The 1951 Distance de Fée (Distant Fairy) is one of several pieces from the composer that deal with the concept of distance and space. Although it is evocative of some dream-like landscape, it does hold the listener’s interest with enough forward motion to keep it from becoming stagnant. Brief but effective, it is beautifully played.

Avie, if they are indeed trying to become a major player in the classical record market, are certainly going about it in all the right ways. Excellent production values abound here with top-notch sound quality, literate and interesting liner notes and in general, attractive packaging. Thus far, all of the discs that have come my way from this company have been consistently world-class, and if this is a harbinger of things to come, the classical music world has a welcome new major player. This disc is highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

Jonathan Woolf also listened to this recording

 



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