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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    

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Somei SATOH (b 1947)
Birds in warped time II
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Violin Sonata (1916-17)
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)

Thème et variations (1932)
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)

Distance de Fée (1951)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Violin Sonata in G (1923-27)
Anne Akiko Meyers (violin)
Li Jian (piano)
Recorded at Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, August 2002
AVIE AV0024 [52.54]


This CD takes the Debussy-Ravel coupling and gives it a little twist. The two Japanese works are contrastive and the early Messiaen, which sits at the heart of the recital, proves, for me, the highlight of the set. And that is the problem. I find myself so at odds with Meyers’ Debussy and to a somewhat lesser extent her Ravel that I find it hard to consider the programme in the light of the damaging aspects that are so remorselessly a feature of her performances. Having listened and reviewed recently a performance of the Debussy by Alfred Dubois and listening again to the recording made by his pupil Arthur Grumiaux I’m afraid my objections are only reinforced. I note that Meyers makes a prominent portamento in the opening phrases of the Debussy, presumably in emulation of the then performance style, but why, in that case, does she treat the succeeding material to the most grotesque sounding kokyu inflections – unless she is seeking to assert some stylistic analogue between this work and the companion Japanese works. I’m afraid this is simply not a thought-through performance – it’s architecturally careless, directionless, without tension, and one seemingly incapable of perceiving the idiom.

If anything, perplexingly, the Ravel suffers from chronic under-inflexion. Parts of the performance are attractive but the underpowered first movement leads to a lack of phrasal continuity and inevitability and, indeed, incident. There’s also a one-dimensionality about Meyers’ tone that limits engagement. The Blues second movement is essentially delicate and the finale more whimsical than relentless. It’s a point of view, I suppose, but it sounds superficial and very dampened down to me.

The Messiaen responds rather better to Meyers and Jian and the Takemitsu is a beautifully crafted and evocative piece. I know Meyers has promoted Satoh’s Violin Concerto but the piece recorded here is ten minutes of inconsequential noodling. In all this Li Jan seems a pliant and nimble accomplice. The sound at Tanglewood opens well and catches sufficient inner detail. I can only say in conclusion that I’m astonished that a pupil of Josef Gingold, himself an Ysaÿe pupil, should play French works in this way.

Jonathan Woolf



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