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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major op. 18 [29:13]
Auf stillem Waldespfad (aus ‘Stimmungsbilder’) Op.9 no.1 - arr. Jascha Heifetz [3:22]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major [27:21]
Mélancolie [3:39]
Prelude, fugue and variations in B minor - arr. Augustin Dumay and Louis Lortie after Paul Lemaitre) [9:30]
Augustin Dumay (violin)
Louis Lortie (piano)
rec. Saint-Denis-le-Ferment, Normandy, 24-26 September 2012
ONYX 4096 [73:10]


I have always rated Augustin Dumay’s collaborations with Maria João Pires on DG in the Beethoven, Brahms and Grieg sonatas very highly and have returned to them many times. What has drawn me to these performances has been the refined and cultivated playing on offer and the perceived empathy between the two players. Having long associations with EMI and DG, Dumay has only recently started recording for Onyx. Last year a CD of music by Saint-Saëns was issued where he performs in the dual roles of conductor and violinist. Here he plays two substantial romantic violin sonatas together with some smaller items. His partner on this occasion is the renowned French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie.
 
Richard Strauss composed most of his chamber music in the early part of his life, and the Violin Sonata was written in 1887 when he was twenty-three. Having studied both violin and piano in his formative years, a large-scale violin sonata was an impressive way to display his skills. It was Jascha Heifetz who championed the sonata and put it on the map, so to speak. He recorded it in the studio twice and performed it in his last recital in 1972. The César Franck Sonata was also on that same Heifetz programme. Never having had the same recognition as the Franck Sonata, the Strauss has been taken up more in recent years, and is now reasonably well represented in the CD catalogue.
 
To be successful, any performance of the Strauss needs passion, highlighting all that youthful exuberance and those dramatic gestures. Heifetz, to me, strikes exactly the right balance. The Dumay/Lortie approach to the first movement is slightly underplayed and lacks red-blooded verve. For me this movement is too laid-back. However, the remaining two movements I did enjoy. The lush romanticism of the second movement is captured and there’s no lack of fire in the finale. Their virtuosity, all the while, meets the challenges that this work presents.

The Franck Sonata was written in 1886 as a wedding present for the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe. He performed the sonata many times and frequently took it on tour. This initial exposure quickly established the work’s reputation, and it soon became a war-horse of the violin repertoire. There are many excellent recordings out there. Some of the best include Oistrakh, Grumiaux, Perlman, Chung and, my personal favorite, a wonderful recording by Kaja Danczowska with Krystian Zimerman (DG The Originals). So, it is a very competitive playing field. The Dumay/Lortie stands shoulder to shoulder with these. Tempi are well-judged, as are dynamic control and phrasing. They capture the essence of the music, and Franck’s soaring lyricism pervades what we hear. Violin and piano tone are exquisite throughout.
 
These are compelling readings, despite my reservations regarding the Strauss Sonata first movement. Here are two performers at the top of their game. The Onyx engineers have managed to capture a beautiful, spacious sound and ambience throughout. Besides the two sonatas, the extra, smaller works are delightful and a pleasing bonus.
 
Stephen Greenbank