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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Rare Transcriptions for Violin and Piano
Camille SAINT-SANS (1835-1921)
Caprice brillant [12:50]
Frdric CHOPIN (1810-1849) arr. SAINT-SANS
Nocturne in E major, Op. 62/2 [5:52]
Camille SAINT-SANS arr. Eugne YSAE (1858-1931)
Caprice daprs ltude en forme de valse Op. 52/6 [8:23]
Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55/2 [4:46]
Frdric CHOPIN arr. YSAE
Waltz in E minor, Op. post [3:53]
Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op. 23 [10:07]
Fantaisie for violin and piano after Webers Oberon [15:51]
Lair de la pendule [1:04]
Fantaisie for violin and harp, Op. 124 [13:43]
Philippe Graffin (violin); Pascal Devoyon (piano); Catherine Beynon (harp) (Op. 124)
rec. 18 January 1999 (Fantaisie, Op. 124), 6-8 March 2001, Henry Wood Hall, London

Experience Classicsonline

The art of the arranger was, as this disc reminds us, once an important means of generating virtuoso repertoire and of spreading the word about the music of the day. Two transcribers are celebrated here, both highly accomplished performers and composers in their own right who shared a personal connection that binds this programme together. Camille Saint-Sans, the extraordinarily long-lived and prolific Frenchman, provides arrangements and original works and is perhaps a more convincing arranger than the other composer featured, the Belgian violinist Eugne Ysae. Their paths cross with the Caprice daprs ltude en forme de valse, the only item here that doesn't fall within the titular remit of the 'rare'.

There are moments of convergence between Saint-Sans and Ysae throughout the recital, not least their respective transcriptions of piano works by Chopin. Saint-Sans's arrangements of two Nocturnes feel like genuine partnerships between violin and piano with thematic material generously shared between the two. It helps that the piano is marginally more dominant in the mix than the violin, which here contributes to the impression of integration.

By contrast, Ysae's selections seem a little less suitable than the flowing, singing Nocturnes. Graffin does, however, point out in his booklet notes that his intentions were a little different. Ysae saw these as puzzles of instrumental technique; as a means of extending his own facility for violin writing and, like a number of his own compositions, they were not published during his lifetime, suggesting that the process was more important than the end result. There's an awkwardness to certain moments in Ysae's two Chopin transcriptions which I'm sure is not Graffin's fault. The opening of the E minor Waltz sounds a bit of a handful, as do the more energetic moments of the G minor Ballade. The Ballade, in particular, seems a strange choice characterised by compromise: the nature of the violin-piano duo inevitably lends the whiff of the salon to one of Chopin most blistering and uncompromising assaults on the keyboard. Why, I wonder, did Ysae choose to break up the glorious upward climb of the Ballade's opening with a chord after the first note?

Graffin and Devoyon are excellent throughout Graffin, particularly, impressing with a sweet tone, excellent intonation and real investment of refined expression. He's particularly fine in the first and last items of the recital. Saint-Sanss Caprice brillant, once thought lost, is in fact the progenitor of the finale if the Third Violin Concerto. It embarks on its more familiar course after a rhapsodic Lisztian introduction which, and appropriately enough begins with a spread chord which sounds as though it's escaped from one of Ysae's own miraculous Sonatas for solo violin. And at the other end of the disc, Graffin is joined by harpist Catherine Beynon for the relatively late (1907) Fantaisie for violin and harp. This is a hugely enjoyable work; for me a real discovery marked equally by Faur-esque musical language and an exotic Spanish flavour.

Hyperion's decision to reissue this album on their budget price Helios label is hugely welcome, and although the title might sound a little specialised, it is an immensely enjoyable disc programmed with thought and care.

Andrew Morris




















































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