YSAYE Music for Violin and Piano. Graffin/Devoyon (Hyperion) – INKPOT
Eugne Ysae (1858-1931)
|PHILIPPE GRAFFIN violin
*PASCAL DEVOYON piano HYPERION Records CDA 66940
|For those of you who enjoy works like Bachs Partitas for solo violin and Paganinis 24 Caprices, well this is the disc for you. Ysae’s six solo Sonatas are dedicated to the great violinists who lived during the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Each contributed to the classical music world in one way or the other. An example is Fritz Kreisler who was noted as a violinist who not only played lyrically, but with his heart and soul.
The works on this disc are not for the average violinist, and from Sonata No.1 you can tell that Philippe Graffin is well equiped to make this recording. One may easily conclude just by hearing the first three movements that these are “show off” pieces demanding a high level of dexterity, composure, showmanship and strength on the part of the violinist. As the notes in the sleeve most elegantly puts it, upon hearing these virtuosic pieces people of the period would definitely have shouted out the name “Ysae, Ysae!” – he just stood out so clearly in the music. I suppose for the pianophile it would be like listening to Liszt’s music which with its chordic exuberance and technical difficulty could not be by anyone else.
When one thinks of the violinists at the end of the 19th century, names like Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Sarasate, Chausson and (not forgetting the greatest of fiddlers) Paganini quickly come to mind. However one must not forget that Ysae was equally a central figure in the musical world. Unlike many great composers, Ysae (left) was not a child prodigy. It was Wieniawski who brought him under his wing. One interesting point worth mention is the fact that Ysae was a self-taught musician. He composed many violin pieces of the tarantella and mazurka form, and some of these have unfortunately never been performed.
His extensive travels put him in contact with composers like Rubinstein, Debussy and even Franck. Francks Violin Sonata in A major and Chausson’s Poeme is said to be inspired by him. Chausson is said to have called the latter work “mon-ton poeme” (“my-your poem”)
DURING the First World War, Ysae retreated to London where he gave numerous concerts for charity. He was noted for his discipline and hard work and spent countless hours practising and perfecting his tone. Just from hearing his Poeme Elegiaque you will know that the technique of a titan and the grace of a swan is needed to perform it. One can straightaway confirm that these pieces require not only discipline to play but a certain level of understanding and maturity, while the 24 Caprices of Paganini could be played by a good virtuosic fiddler whether young or old. The Ysae Sonatas, in contrast, require a sound understanding of the music, otherwise they will sound rather pedantic and at best ordinary.
The six Sonatas test every aspect of a violinist, reaching the far corners of all the registers that the violin can possibly explore. In fact some of the Sonatas sound so much like the Bach Sarabandes or Courantes, with so many characteristics of these Partitas that I strongly suspect Ysae must have drawn his inspiration and the form from these pieces. I was not wrong, when I reached the Second Sonata I was presently surprised.
The Second Sonata’s first movement, called “Obsession”, is based on Bachs Partita No.3 in E major. This piece is marked by glissandos and pizzicati which I reckon would be quite a visual experience. By the way, note that these Sonatas are not entirely lyrical in nature and therefore could be rather trying to listen to all at one go.
However one sonata that got my attention was the Fourth Sonata, dedicated to Fritz Kreisler. It displays some of the traces of Kreislers Tambourin Chinois and the Recitative and Scherzo, as well as Kreisler’s tenderness of playing. Ysaes solo works give you the impression that to rationalize is to lower your standards. Every movement has its excitement and the violinist is challenged both technically as well as emotionally. Somehow I feel that you need the same “diabolic” instincts required to play Paganini for these pieces as well. While the sleeve does mention Wieniawski as one of his main inspirations, I have this feeling that perhaps Paganini had a hand in the music.
While this CD is recommended only to the serious violin listener, I do recommend listening to it in portions. Eventually, certain movements will grow on you and you will feel that you cannot get enough of it. I have not personally listened to Ysae’s quartet music, but I suspect it would be equally interesting, having solo instruments challenge each other in unison.
JOHANN D’SOUZA has just found a great new fascination for the Tango and will no doubt be looking for a dance partner – anyone out there?
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137: 4.4.1998 Johann D’Souza
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