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CD: AmazonUK

Fantasy Olivier MESSIAEN (1908–1992) La Mort du Nombre (1930) [10:42]1, 2 Thème et Variations (1932) [10:53] Fantasie (1933) [8:13]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874–1951) Phantasy Op.47 (1949) [9:32]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828) Fantasie D934 op. posth.(1827) [25:48] Sei mir Gegrüsst! D.741 [4:12]1
Kaoru Ymada (violin); Sholto Kynoch (piano); Rhona McKail (soprano) 1; Nicky Spence (tenor) 2
rec. at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, Oxford December 2009
STONE RECORDS 5060192780017 [69:20]

Experience Classicsonline

This isn’t by any means the first disc that has taken on the element of Fantasy by placing Schubert’s work of the same name in the context of satellite pieces. Anne Akiko Meyers and Akira Eguchi, for example, constructed a rather weird programme which included Chaplin and Harold Arlen as well as traditional Japanese pieces. But as with the present duo of Kaoru Ymada and Sholto Kynoch, they too included Messiaen’s Fantasy. It’s surely something more than the merely linguistic that draws violinists to these pieces and encourages them to draw allusions between them.

The Ymada-Kynoch pairing in fact go further in examining three Messiaen pieces, all written between 1930 and 1933. La Mort du Nombre is written for violin, tenor and soprano voices, and piano. The violin’s opening statements are followed by the tenor and piano, and anguished intensification of the line take Nicky Spence into high altitude. Soprano Rhona McKail sounds in a more veiled acoustic, though Messiaen doesn’t stint the technical demands for her either. The conjoining of the vocal lines is accomplished with assurance here – and the dappled Debussian elements of the writing are equally finely evoked.

Thème et Variations was first performed in 1932 by Messiaen and his then wife, Claire Delbos. This is a tough work to bring off. It’s one thing to play with power but one must also convey the serenity of the writing. But as Messiaen again pushes the fiddle very high, it’s difficult to maintain fullness of tone for such a stretch. Fortunately Ymada is equal to the demands. The Fantasie was unearthed only fairly recently but is getting increasing numbers of recordings. This performance is a touch more leisurely than that of Akiko Meyers but otherwise just as fine. As I wrote in my other review – and I’ve not changed my view - in its urgency, expressive song and explicitly virtuoso formulations it makes for an unsatisfying, though fascinating, mélange.

Schoenberg’s Fantasy is played with requisite appreciation of its more intractable qualities but the duo manages not to make the experience too oppressive; in this respect it remind me a little of Szymon Goldberg’s way with it. The Schubert Fantasy offers powerful challenges, and is another work that offers a plethora of expressive difficulties in respect of balance and projection. It’s played with tenderness and refinement. To conclude we have the song which threads its way through the Fantasy, Sei mir Gegrüsst! which is attractively sung by McKail.

So this disc, cannily constructed and inter-thematically programmed, sheds light upon the various works performed. Its intelligence in this respect is matched by the performances, and good recorded sound.

Jonathan Woolf

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