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Faure sonatas NI8107
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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Berceuse, Op 16 (1880) [3:36]
Violin Sonata No 1, Op 13 (1876) [25:12]
Violin Sonata No 2, Op 108 (1917) [23:27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Berceuse sur le nom de Fauré, M.74 (1922) [2:39]
Violin Sonata Movement in A minor, M.12 (1897) [2:39]
Hagai Shaham (violin)
Arnon Erez (piano)
rec 25-27 April 2014, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK

This selection of French music for violin and piano covers a period of about four decades, as romanticism developed into impressionism and proceeded on from there. Hagai Shaham on violin and Arnon Erez on piano perform most of the major works for these instruments by Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Ravel.

Fauré is an often overlooked composer, but as I grow older I find myself appreciating his music more and more. The three selections from Fauré on this disc do not disappoint. The Berceuse is sweet and delicate, although I could have done with a little bit more emotion and vibrato.

Fauré’s first violin sonata, one of his earliest masterworks, is an intriguing piece of contrasts. The entry of the violin on the repeat of the first part of the first movement feels a little ragged and unsure. The second movement is reminiscent of the Berceuse in its gently swaying piano accompaniment. This Andante is quite relaxing. The final two movements feature rapidly cascading figures, with the finale flying by so rapidly that I could barely follow it in the score. The breathless conclusion is nevertheless landed safely and with confidence.

The relationship of the two composers is emphasized in Ravel’s Berceuse on the Name of Fauré. While there are no letters l, r, or u in the musical scale, Ravel makes creative substitutions (e.g., D stands in for r, or re) to enable a gently flowing melody that could have come from Fauré’s pen. Beneath that deceptively simple line are some brutally complex harmonies in the piano. It’s a testament to the performers that these two parts fit together as seamlessly as they do.

Ravel’s Violin Sonata Movement in A minor (the CD case and booklet both misdescribe it as being in A major) is impressionistic and very much in the Debussy mold. The young Ravel is clearly still under Debussy’s influence here. The time signatures are complex and constantly changing throughout, but the listener is none the wiser. While most of the rest of the disc is played in a restrained manner with very little vibrato, Shaham feels free to let loose here.

The disc concludes with Fauré’s second violin sonata, written more than 35 years after his first. He is writing for a very different world now, and the sonata reflects that difference starkly. The first movement is quite complex rhythmically. At times the violin sounds rather harsh and raw, almost angst-ridden, which is suitable for being written against the backdrop of a world war. The second movement is relaxed, but still with a persistent undercurrent of tension. The concluding movement is frolicsome and innocent, building to a triumphant series of complex syncopations.

The playing is quite restrained overall, and the sound a bit on the sweet side. This attitude will not generally please those looking for a rougher sound heavy on the rosin, but the music generally doesn’t call for that. Dynamic range is excellent and there is nothing to complain about in the mixing or engineering. The balance between violin and piano is quite appropriate throughout.

Mark S. Zimmer

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