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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) 
Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1 in A major, Op.13 (1875-76) [24:04]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor, L 148 (1916-17) [14:11]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 9 (1904) [20:21]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. posth. (arr. Nathan Milstein) [3:51]
Bomsori Kim (violin)
Rafał Blechacz (piano)
rec. 2018, Siemens-Villa, Berlin

This is the debut duo release by South Korean violinist Bomsori Kim and Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz. The latter’s Bach recording I reviewed with great enthusiasm in 2017 and I ended up nominating it a Recording of the Year. Here’s how these two exceptional musicians initially got together: Blechacz spotted Kim taking part in the 2016 International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in which she was awarded Second Prize. Impressed by her talent and on the lookout for a chamber music partner, he contacted her and she accepted the offer. Blechacz is also a competition winner, taking First Prize in the 2005 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw.

This well-constructed programme perfectly showcases the strengths of both players, who command brilliant virtuosity, impeccable musicianship and a compelling vision. As for the music, the booklet notes capture the essence when they speak of the “wonderfully symbiotic relationship” between “Polish melancholy and French elegance”. Blechacz has already recorded some Chopin, Debussy and Szymanowski, which is a good starting point, with Fauré being a worthy complement.

Of Fauré’s two violin sonatas, the first has always been the more popular. It brims over with freshness, ardent lyricism, soaring lines and passionate romantic fervour. Kim’s rich tone and wide dynamic range are ideal for a work such as this, and you get the feeling she’s lived with it for a while. Indeed, there are a couple of her live performances on YouTube, one from the 2012 Joseph Joachim Violin Competition in Hanover. Both players instil burning passion and fire into the opening movement, and I must commend the engineers who’ve struck a perfect balance between the two. Wistful calm with an air of reminiscence provides some balm in the second movement. Both players go for broke in the Scherzo, with Kim’s pizzicatos and spiccato bowings crisp and incisive. The finale is dramatic, emotionally intense and optimistic in mood.

Composed against the backdrop of the Great War, the Sonata in G minor was Debussy’s last major work, written when he was suffering from the cancer that was to end his life soon after. Kim and Blechacz surf the contours of the opening movement with sensitivity and allure. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the violinist’s sensuous position changes and pristine intonation during the course. I also love the way Blechacz highlights the shifting harmonies and brings colour to the different sonorities and textures. The beguiling rhythms of the middle movement ‘Intermède. Fantasque et léger’ are idiomatically nuanced. The finale is full of optimism and positivity, building up to an ecstatic conclusion, in stark contrast to the personal situation Debussy found himself in at the time.

Szymanowski was only twenty-two when he wrote his Op. 9 Sonata and still seeking his own voice. The three-movement work is cast in the late-Romantic style, and one can detect the influence of Brahms and Franck. It was premiered by Paweł Kochański and Artur Rubinstein in Warsaw, in April 1909. A declamatory gesture ushers in the first movement and, along the way, the composer manages to balance unalloyed passion with moments of radiant lyricism. The slow movement is tender and exploits the higher reaches of the violin against a ravishing piano accompaniment. A scherzo intervenes, lighter in weight with its plucky pizzicatos, only to return to emotional intensity. The finale is animated and shot through with potent intensity. Kim and Blechacz deliver an outstanding performance of this work, the best I’ve ever heard. It is a performance of sensitively graded emotions, acute dynamic range and inspired rhythmic flow. It certainly doesn’t get any better than this.

Poland and France come together in a heartfelt rendering of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. posth. in an arrangement by Nathan Milstein.

The attractive, communicative playing of these two artists is enhanced by the conducive ambience in the Siemens-Villa. Kim’s violin is a 1774 Guadagnini, the warm, rounded and burnished tone of which has been nicely captured in the mix. It is matched by Blechacz’s expertly-voiced Steinway. This stunning recording is just too good to miss.

Stephen Greenbank

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