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French Touch
Francis POULENC
(1899 – 1963)

Violin Sonata (1942/1943 rev 1949) [18:28]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Violin Sonata in G (1927) [17:55]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Danse Macabre (1875) [6:30]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Tzigane (1924) [9:43]
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
Meditation from Thaïs (1894) [4:53]
Max Zorin (violin), Vincent Balse (piano)
rec. 4–7 July 2006, Château de Rochemarin. DDD
MAX ZORIN no number [57:29]
Experience Classicsonline

If anyone was of the opinion that Poulenc wasn’t entirely happy writing purely instrumental music, and I have to admit that I am one of them, this performance of the Violin Sonata might just change your mind. Helped by a very forward recording, it really does feel as if the two performers are in the room with you. Zorin grabs the first movement by the scruff of the neck and wrings every ounce of passion and excitement from it. The slow movement, in homage to Federico Garcia Lorca, killed by Nationalist partisans at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, could have done with a little less passion and a bit more simplicity. The finale again races along, anger and passion run side by side and Zorin is well up to the challenge of the music. Yes, Poulenc could write convincingly for purely instrumental forces and this performance has to be heard to be believed.
 
The Ravel Sonata begins with exactly the right amount of nonchalance, the music just starting without preamble – it’s suddenly there and we’re listening. It’s a quite spectacular start and very daring. Zorin treats the whole first movement as one never-ending, always unfolding, melody and he is right to do so, because it is! The blues of the middle movement is subtle and seductive, Zorin using the most delicious rubato and portamento to really point the tune. The moto perpetuo finale is less hectic than many a performance and by slightly holding back the music doesn’t sound as breathless as it often does.
 
After all this seriousness, Zorin lets his hair down with a raucous (anonymous) arrangement of Danse Macabre for violin and piano – great fun and full of pyrotechnics. He approaches Tzigane less as if it were there simply for him to show off, but as if it were a real piece of music and not the mindless showpiece most violinists take it to be. He cares about the tunes! Of course, he also relishes the virtuosity it allows him to display, but this is no mere run-through for a show-off! He even manages to make a couple of jokes at the virtuosic aspect of the piece!
 
To end there is a lovely, and very subdued, account of the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs. Oddly, this sounds as if it were recorded in a different acoustic to the rest of the recital.
 
This is a disk well worth having because Zorin sheds new light on the Poulenc and Ravel Sonatas with his forthright approach which certainly suits the former more than one would believe! The sound is very bright and upfront. In fact it is recorded so very loudly that I had to turn the volume down to get a good perspective on the sound. Be warned, it is a bit fierce if you play this CD too loudly. At a reasonable volume this is very enjoyable!
 
Bob Briggs

 

 


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