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Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27
No.1 in G minor "To Joseph Szigeti" [17:11]
No.2 in A minor "To Jacques Thibaud" [13.06]
No.3 in D minor "To Georges Enesco" [7.24]
No.4 in E minor "To Fritz Kreisler" [12:24]
No.5 in G major "To Mathieu Crickboom" [10:25]
No.6 in E major "To Manuel Quiroga" [7.32]
Divertimento, Op. 24 [10:30]
Richard Pieta (violin)
Patrick Dheur (piano)
rec. Studio Recital B (Tihange-Belgium), no date given
Premiere Recording - Divertimento

The Belgian violinist Eugène Ysayë had a passion for Bach's Solo Sonatas and Partitas and, after having heard Joseph Szigeti perform one of the solo sonatas, he was inspired to write his own cycle of six as a homage to Bach. Apparently, at his villa in Zoute in the summer of 1923, he rustled up some sketches within twenty-four hours. With white heat intensity he was able to complete six solo sonatas in the space of only a few days, and these were published the following year. Each bears a dedication to one of his colleagues -Szigeti, Thibaud, Enescu, Kreisler, Crickboom and Quiroga, all renowned violin virtuosos of the early 20th century, with each reflecting the individual musical personality and technical idiosyncrasies of the dedicatee.

The works have benefitted from much interest over recent times, which is gratifying as they languished in obscurity for many years. By my reckoning there are about 40+ recordings listed as being available. They showcase many aspects of violinistic technique including double-stops, harmonics, pizzicato (left and right hand) and special effects such as sul ponticello (on the bridge) bowing, which the composer asks for in the finale of the Second Sonata. The composer, always meticulous in his directions, goes to great lengths in providing scrupulous detail on bowing, phrasing and dynamics and there’s even a rubato indication.

The four movement First Sonata is the most Bachian in structure and character. The triple- and quadruple-stop chordal textures, reminiscent of Bach, are vibrant and intense in their impact. Pieta delineates the polyphonic lines in the Fugato with precision and clarity. The Second Sonata, dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, fuses Bach excerpts with ‘Dies Irae’ quotes. Ysaÿe’s ‘Obsession’ is with the prelude from Bach’s E major partita.  It all makes for a potent mix. The muted ‘Malinconia’ in E minor, which comes second, has an inborn stillness. Pieta’s diaphanous sonorities confer a deep sense of mystery. The Third Sonata "To Georges Enesco" is the best-known and most frequently performed of the six and is the shortest, cast in a single movement. The performance is delivered with stirring drama and pristine intonation in the double stop passages.

The Sonata No 4 in E minor is dedicated to Fritz Kreisler and I have to say that I find the first two movements the least inspired. The finale is the most interesting of the three, a spectacular display of semi-quavers and double stops, which Pieta plays with dazzle and panache. In the two-movement Fifth Sonata, the first movement, ‘L’Aurore’ (The Dawn) conjures up the impression of everything awakening and coming to life. This is followed by a rustic dance, here played with rhythmic punch and drive. The Hispanic flavour of the one-movement Sixth Sonata pays tribute to Manuel Quiroga, the greatest Spanish violinist of his time.

Richard Pieta is joined by pianist Patrick Dheur for the Divertimento Op. 24, which is here receiving its World Premiere. There’s also a version with orchestra. It dates from 1916 and Ysayë dedicated it to his son Gabriel. It’s rather like a fantasy in its free flowing and improvisatory character. Capricious and melodically generous, it does pose technical challenges, but is here performed with exuberance and virtuosic sweep.

I hadn’t come across the violinist Richard Pieta before, but the notes tell us that he’s taught in Liège at the conservatory there and has worked as concertmaster of the Liège Philharmonic. He commands an impressive, sturdy and robust technique and is able to meet all the demands of these challenging works with confident assurance and artful musicianship. He’s been well-recorded, with excellent profiling of his rich burnished tone. Whilst I like this recording very much it doesn’t replace my favorite version by Masuko Ushioda which I reviewed back in 2015.

Stephen Greenbank

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