César FRANCK (1822 – 1890) Violin Sonata in A (1886) [28:00]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1847) Violin Sonata in F (1838) [23:49]
Manuel de FALLA (1876 – 1946) Danse espagnole (La Vida Breve) (1913) (arr. Fritz Kreisler) [4:43]
Antonin DVORÁK (1841 – 1904) Slavonic Dance No.2 in E minor (1878) (arr. Fritz Kreisler) [3:40]
Uri Pianka (violin); Timothy Hester (piano)
rec. January 2008, Studios of KUHF, Houston Public Radio, Texas. DDD
ROMÉO RECORDS 7272 [60:38]

César Franck’s Violin Sonata is one of those pieces which are simply too beautiful. They seem to transcend the medium in which they exist. What we hear is not a Violin Sonata but a hymn to the perfection of the musical art. As with Guillaume Lekeu’s slightly later Sonata – and what a coupling that piece would be for the Franck – this music is very special. It is filled with wonderful soaring tunes, brilliantly and gratefully laid out for the players. The whole is free from romantic angst. My relationship with this work, over some 45 years, has been akin to a love affair, so perfect a partner to my life is this music.

Uri Pianka is a fine player, indeed I cannot fault his technique for it is just about flawless. However, I question his interpretation of the Franck for it is very hard driven. There is little light and shade and it isn’t until about half way through the slow movement that he finally relaxes and allows himself to enjoy the lyricism. His tone is very full, perhaps too much so, for I want my lover, here, to yield to her occasional winsomeness. Pianka likes to push the music forward somewhat ungraciously; the finale, in particular, is totally lacking in charm. The Mendelssohn receives the same hard-driven treatment, and here, in the cooler, more precise classical mood I find Pianka’s wide vibrato to be very annoying. The little encore pieces are in the same vein. They appear on the disk in the reverse order to the listing in the booklet and the rear inlay.

Part of the trouble with this disk is the recording, which is very forward. There’s no space between you, the listener, and the performer. It’s as if he’s in the room with you, but so close as to be overwhelming. The performers would have been better served if the engineers had allowed some room for the sound to expand into.

There’s a lot of competition for the Franck and you cannot do much better than go for the excellent performance by Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan (Naïve V5122, coupled with the Shostakovich Sonata). The Mendelssohn is well served in a recording of the composer’s complete music for violin and piano by Nicholas Milton (leader of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra) and Nína-Margrét Grímsdóttir (Naxos 8.554725).

Bob Briggs