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Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27 (1924)
No.1 in G minor "To Joseph Szigeti" [16.34]
No.2 in A minor "To Jacques Thibaud" [13.39]
No.3 in D minor "To Georges Enesco" [7.44]
No.4 in E minor "To Fritz Kreisler" [12.11]
No.5 in G major "To Mathieu Crickboom" [9.26]
No.6 in E major "To Manuel Quiroga" [7.24]
Henning Kraggerud (violin)
rec. 24-27 August 2007, Hof kirke, Østre Toten, Norway.
SIMAX PSC 1293 [67:38]
Experience Classicsonline

The link between J.S. Bach’s sonatas and partitas and Belgian violinist and composer Eugéne Ysaÿe’s op. 27 is a strong feature of these works. Direct quotations, such as the reference to Bach’s second sonata in the Sonata No.2 are the clearest pointers, but the symbolism and formal relationships pointed out and illustrated in Henning Kraggrud’s own comprehensive booklet notes leach through just about every aspect of these works. The Bach informs and strengthens the individual qualities of each sonata, while in no way turning any of them into lame pastiche. Each of Ysaÿe's solo sonatas is dedicated to a younger violinist, those among the outstanding players of their day. Not only do they bear dedications to Szigeti, Thibaud, Enescu, Kreisler, Crickboom and Quiroga, they also contain numerous more or less hidden messages for these interpreters.

Henning Kraggerud’s playing is sturdy and robust, and where in live performances I have heard some players over-romanticising the more gentle movements, the Amabile in the Sonata No.1 or the Malinconia in the Sonata No.2 for instance, Kraggerud allows the music to speak directly, giving it plenty of tenderness but never slackening in intensity or rhythmic direction. His technical assurance is second to none, and the most demanding passages are breathtaking. I won’t say he makes them sound easy – the sheer physical requirements come over like hard-won battles. Kraggerud always wins however, giving enough detailed care to allow the music to shine through, and showing enough bravura to make the most important dramatic moments sound as if the world’s axis is turning around the hairs of his bow. The effects and colours in Les Furies from the Sonata No.2 crackle and spark with all the sense of danger you get from an overhead power cable. Kraggerud brings out the ‘character’ nature of the pieces as much as possible, but it takes an educated ear to spot many of the clues. Some of the more apparent of these are to be found in the ‘Kreisler’-orientated Sonata No.4, in which his technical style and bravado appear interwoven through numerous fantastic moments. The white-heat of inspiration which saw Ysaÿe create these works in a short period during his 66th year is reflected in Kraggerud’s performance with utter conviction from beginning to end.

This SACD hybrid recording is truly excellent. In stereo there is a little of what sounds like channel-hopping now and again, but when full surround mode is used you have more of a 3D sense of the violinist moving around. This must always be a bit of a nightmare for sound engineers, especially when editing, but the production on this disc is superlatively good. The violin played by Kraggerud is a 1744 Guarneri, made in the last year of the master’s life, and showing the maker having to resort to local materials. The back for instance is made from beechwood as opposed to the more exotic and commonly used imported maple. The loan of the instrument and recording was funded by Dextra Musica, a series of such recordings of which this is a part. There are some lovely close-up photos of the violin throughout the well designed disc gatefold and booklet for this release.

There are a number of recordings of these remarkable works around now, and the high technical demands of the music mean there are very few if any that one could call weak. Of the complete sets, Thomas Zehetmair on ECM has to be one of the top considerations. Then there is Leonidas Kavakos on Bis and Frank Peter Zimmermann on EMI – also both strong contenders in the market. These performances all seem to engender a strong following in those with whom they have come into contact, and there is no right or wrong in this. Henning Kraggerud’s excellent performances with their value-added SACD recording can be considered alongside all comers as one of the very best at the highest level.

Dominy Clements


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