César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A (1886) [28:10]
Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Violin Sonata in G (1891) [34:04]
Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Andante for violin and orchestra (1885) – piano reduction arranged by Jerrold Rubenstein [6:26]
Jerrold Rubenstein (violin)
Dalia Ouziel (piano)
rec. May 2010, Galaxy Studio, Mol, Belgium
TALENT DOM 2911 117 [70:30]
I recently reviewed a transfer of a Franck-Lekeu disc recorded on LP back in 1956 by Henri Koch and André Dumortier. The conjoining of the two works has precedent and the musical and biographical reasons so to do are compelling. Shackling one very over-recorded classic with one still-underrepresented minor masterpiece is always a tricky business, because it means splitting the focus; do you really want another Franck, just to acquire the Lekeu? Talent has taken the gamble and added a work by the dedicatee of both sonatas, the great Eugène Ysaÿe.

This performance of the Lekeu is predicated on the largest possible scale. Koch, who had earlier recorded it on 78, went through it in 29 minutes. Here American violinist Jerrold Rubenstein and Israeli pianist Dalia Ouziel take a leisurely 34. There are certainly examples of a more considered approach to the sonata; in his first LP recording of it, Arthur Grumiaux was almost as slow, though when it came to a remake he speeded up quite dramatically, reflecting a sea change in his perception of the sonata’s tempo relationships. But if the viewpoint is consistent, and the argument persuasive, then the result can be convincing whatever the tempo.
My concerns regarding this performance relate to the recording, which is rather shrill and unrelieved, and to the sometimes monochromatic nature of the interpretation. Rubenstein doesn’t phrase especially imaginatively in the first movement, nor is he especially touching in the second, where there isn’t much variety of colour in his tone. The start of the finale is strikingly strident and almost hectoring, but it should really be quicker and less abrasive. Historically speaking Menuhin and Koch and Grumiaux (second recording) are the standard bearers. There have been a number of recent recordings too, and I’m afraid that this one is not in that sort of league.
Back in 1986 Rubenstein recorded Ysaÿe’s Andante, which probably derives from a Violin Concerto, with the Orchestre National de Belgique directed by Mendi Rodan. Now he returns to the work, this time in his own piano reduction. It’s highly attractive, though properly speaking somewhat slight. The Franck Sonata has its sluggish moments phrasally. His vibrato tends to sag at times as well. The duo with Ouziel, who plays well throughout, is very competent, but overall I’m afraid alternative versions are to be preferred.
Jonathan Woolf
Alternative versions are to be preferred.