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Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Violin Sonata in G major (1892) [30.22]
Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
Violin Sonata in G major Op.13 (1901) [39.37]
Irina Muresanu (violin)
Dana Ciocarlie (piano)
rec. Charrat Muses, Switzerland, December 2005
AR RE-SE 2006-0 [70.28]



This is a fine conjunction of sonatas inspired, less than a decade apart, by the leonine Ysa˙e. The Lekeu has always held a respected if somewhat aloof place in the catalogue, the Magnard much less so. Among the pairings to have essayed the latter, two in particular stand out; Dumay/Collard on EMI and Zimansky/Keller on Accord. The newcomer belts it out in record time, shaving around about three minutes off the Accord pairing and four off the French performance. The problem with the Magnard is its association of Franckian cyclical procedure and a certain thematic diffusion, which can lead to a degree of static phrasing and confusion. So the instinct of the Muresanu/Ciocarlie duo is to try to drive relatively quickly through those areas of maximum difficulty the better to convey Magnard’s syntax with a greater sense of spine and logic. It’s still not a simple task.

Magnard’s Franckian inheritance carries with it distinct foreshadowing of Delius and even, in the first movement, of Ireland’s later violin sonatas, particularly the second. But Magnard’s elastic sense of lyricism is less definitive than theirs and performers need to sculpt the lines with great care to project them with assurance and conviction. This the new pairing often does, though there are equally moments when those little explosive wellings-up of eruptive emotion are slightly glossed over and where the other pairings’ more considered tempi pay slightly richer rewards in expanding the lyricism. The elusive but impressionist harmonies are most vivid in the slow movement which is here taken at a confident tempo, whereas in the brief scherzo – a cleansingly quick and eventful one – rustic drive alternates with lyrical reflection. Magnard’s propensity for moments of Franckian hothouse compression are consolidated in the intense slow introduction to the finale though when he slips into routine fugato at around 5’00 one’s heart sinks. The ear is always engaged though, with baroque hints and with moments redolent of some of Fauré’s more extrovert chanson. 

Tonally the Muresanu/Ciocarlie are not as dashing or as involved as Zimansky/Keller or as suave and aristocratic as Dumay/Collard but their bracing tempi may tempt those who have previously found the Magnard a tough nut to crack.

Coupling it with the Lekeu makes sense for all sorts of reasons  - the Dumay/Collard was coupled with the Franck and the Accord was an otherwise all-Magnard disc. Here competition is tough. Collectors will know of or have Bobesco/Gentry (Bobesco was always a powerful advocate of this music), Kantorow/Rouvier, Oliveira/Koenig (on Biddulph - but not a real contender) and Poulet/Lee. Some may have encountered Hirschhorn/Eynden but I haven’t. Historical collectors will have the Menuhins’ (Yehudi and Hephzibah) 1930s recording now on Naxos. But I still have a real admiration for old friends Dumay and Collard (EMI). Their greater tonal colouration and vivacity wins the day here, making the newcomers sound relatively reserved and uncommitted. Speeds are broadly similar but the vivacity of Dumay’s rhythmic attacks and the depth and control of Collard’s chordal playing are all very impressive. The relatively slow vibrato of Muresanu sounds wan in comparison and the cloudy sound of the piano might be a recording feature and might equally be a result of over-pedalling. These differences are cemented in the slow movement where the newcomers sounds rather directionless set against the French partnership’s acutely romantic instincts and gift for lyric phrasing, prominent among which is Dumay’s subtle command of right hand inflexions.

So a mixed blessing, this. There’s a bracing if not always very romantically expressive Magnard and a somewhat lacklustre Lekeu. I’d urge you to hear the Magnard however whichever performance you take – the Accord is the most obviously involving but this newcomer does well to minimise some of its more windy rhetoric.

Jonathan Woolf





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