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Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A, Op.13 [25:23]
Violin Sonata No.2 in E minor, Op.108 [22:22]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A [27:05]
Tedi Papavrami (violin)
Nelson Goerner (piano)
rec. 2016, Teldex Studio, Berlin
ALPHA CLASSICS 271 [74:58]

The first thing to state here is that these are performances which deal in grandiose gestures and powerful dramatic posturing. Not for Tedi Papavrami or Nelson Goerner the notion that the belle époque was primarily concerned with elegance, refinement or discretion, or that the music of Fauré is all about subtle colours and pastel dynamic shades. From the very opening of the first Fauré Sonata, we are thrown into a turbulent and almost aggressively forthright soundscape which takes no hostages. And there is no extinguishing of this raging interpretative fire as we progress into the elusive Second Sonata; such is the white heat of this passion that we are forced to re-assess our usual perceptions of Gabriel Fauré. Was he not, like César Franck, a closet Wagnerian? This pair clearly believes that to be the case, and I am wholly convinced by them, persuaded by the sheer forcefulness of their compelling and utterly committed performances.

Tedi Papavrami has suggested that when he arrived in France at a young age from his native Albania he was faced with a country and a culture which were both totally alien to him. This may explain his very unconventional approach to what are staples of the established violin and piano repertory. Similarly Nelson Goerner’s Argentinean upbringing reveals itself through a fiery, colourful approach which not only supports Papavrami’s in-your-face approach to this repertory, but drives it along with high-octane vigour sweeping everything up before it. It is impossible to listen to this disc without getting carried away by the searing intensity of their music-making.

However, the market is full of recordings of these works, and when the initial reaction subsides, what are we left with? Nobody can deny the glorious virtuosity of their playing – vividly displayed in one of the most rapidly articulated and energetically-infused accounts of the Fauré First Sonata’s allegro vivo movement I have ever heard. Nor can anyone challenge the integrity of their playing, notably in the first movement of the Fauré Second Sonata where the turbulent harmonic journey is in no way eased by their extremely robust approach. However, many will be horrified by hearing this music given such an almost operatic blatancy, and those who see Fauré as a kind of ersatz impressionist will be disappointed, as they hear what in other performances are delicately hazy harmonies transformed into muscular, assertive statements of innovative professions and juxtapositions. For my part, I have to say I love it, and while I admit to finding it all a little relentless and overwhelming, on a purely emotional level, I find this uplifting and invigorating in a way which I have never found before.

The César Franck Sonata is a work which is more used to performances buoyed up by high drama and rhetoric gesture, and as such this is a performance which will prove less divisive. But it remains one which is truly epic in scope and almost symphonic in sound. Papavrami’s tone is gloriously full-bodied – he’s playing on the 1727 “Le Reynier” Stradivarius, which is a ravishing enough instrument on its own terms – and his vibrato almost dangerously generous. He also has the intriguing habit of pulling musical phrases over the edge, giving the whole thing an almost vocal opulence. Equally generous in his metrical freedom Goerner adds an improvisatory feel to the piano lines, often giving the impression of exploring ideas at will rather than remaining locked in by the confines of the score. All this serves the Franck very well indeed, reminding us that Franck was, first and foremost, not just an organist with an ear for colour, but one whose masterly improvisations were the stuff of legend. It is good to have performances which defy convention yet have about them the aura of genuine musical insight.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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