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Ysaye - Solo Violin Sonatas

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Over the last decade, the husband and wife team of Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius have been heard together on ECM New Series as members of the Zehetmair Quartet, in outstanding – and prize-winning – recordings of Schumann, Bartók, Hindemith and Hartmann. “Manto and Madrigals”, however, is the first documentation of a duo recital programme which the violinist ... Read more in Amazon's Thomas Zehetmair Store

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Product details

  • Audio CD (31 Dec. 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ECM New Series
  • ASIN: B0002QXRJS
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 189,839 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: Grave -Ysaÿe 3:38£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: Fugato -Ysaÿe 3:53£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  3. Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: Allegretto poco scherzoso -Ysaÿe 3:52£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  4. Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: Finale con brio -Ysaÿe 2:23£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  5. Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: Obsession -Ysaÿe 2:09£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  6. Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: Malinconia -Ysaÿe 2:29£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  7. Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: Dance des ombres -Ysaÿe 3:17£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  8. Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: Les furies -Ysaÿe 2:36£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen  9. Sonata No. 3 in D Minor: Ballade -Ysaÿe 6:00£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen10. Sonata No. 4 in E Minor: Allemande -Ysaÿe 4:16£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen11. Sonata No. 4 in E Minor: Sarabanda -Ysaÿe 2:33£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen12. Sonata No. 4 in E Minor: Finale -Ysaÿe 2:50£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen13. Sonata No. 5 in G Major: L'aurore -Ysaÿe 3:13£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen14. Sonata No. 5 in G Major: Danse rustique -Ysaÿe 4:16£0.99  Buy MP3 
Listen15. Sonata No. 6 in E Major: Allegro giusto non troppo vivo -Ysaÿe 6:17£0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Description

Product Description

Astonishing music, played with passion, verve and total commitment by award-winning violinist Thomas Zehetmair.
Zehetmair provided a tantalizing taste of his affinity with the music of Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931) on Heinz Holliger's 'Violinkonzert' album where the 3rd of Ysaÿe's Sonatas functioned as a dazzling preface.

Now comes a recording of all six of the Ysaÿe sonatas for violin solo. Written in 1923/24, the Belgian composer's violin sonatas belong, with Bach's sonatas and partitas and Paganini's caprices, to the great masterworks of music for unaccompanied violin.

No one is better equipped to play Ysaÿe than Austrian violinist Thomas Zehetmair. As Paul Griffiths writes in the excellent liner notes: "Like Ysaÿe a century before, Zehetmair established himself as a musician with a personal vision and an inquiring mind, a player of passion and accuracy. He burns himself into the music and disappears." Ysaÿe was the outstanding virtuoso of his generation, and Zehetmair, at 43, has few peers in his own age group. Vastly gifted soloist, leader of one of the most widely acclaimed string quartets of the day, Zehetmair has a still-growing reputation as a conductor (especially through his much lauded artistic directorship of the Northern Sinfonia), and his work with the Camerata Bern is handsomely documented on the ECM album 'Verklärte Nacht'.

In the 2003/4 season Thomas Zehetmair received a landslide of classical music prizes - Gramophone 'Record of the Year', Edison Award, the Prix Caecilia, Diapason d'Or de l'Année and more - for his quartet's revelatory ECM recording of Schumann.

Recorded 2002

Thomas Zehetmair (violin)

BBC Review

I'm going to make this really simple. If you care about the violin, and value great musicianship, you need this disc.

There, that was easy, wasn't it?

But if you need convincing, let's begin with Thomas Zehetmair. He's an extraordinary fiddle player with a virtuoso technique married to musical mind that won't take anything for granted. Zehetmair seems to find answers where other musicians don't even see questions... then there's the breadth of his musicianship; a fascinating recording of the Beethoven Concerto on period instruments with Frans Brüggen, a spell-binding recent account of Heinz Holliger's Violin Concerto (written for Zehetmair, and also on ECM), and the Zehetmair Quartet's award-winning CD of Schumann String Quartets that was at the top of most critics' lists a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, audiences in the north of England are getting used to Zehetmair the conductor.

The music is by one of the great Belgians, the most complete violinist of his generation, and certainly the most influential, both as a player and a teacher. Eugène Ysayë was passionate about Bach's Solo Sonatas and Partitas, and his own Solo Sonatas are a homage to Bach, haunted by those remarkable early 18th century suites. The first Ysayë Sonata shadows Bach's, and shares the key; the second is literally obsessed with Bach's E major Partita, quoting the opening before slipping into the darker, more dangerous recesses of the musical imagination, quoting the Dies irae. But the other ghost behind Ysayë's Sonatas is another great set of solo violin pieces: Paganini's Caprices... the physical and technical demands Ysayë thrusts on the interpreter are as severe as the musical and emotional challenges of the music.

Zehetmair is equal to every aspect of the Six Sonatas. So much so, that where in previous performances I'd usually be admiring the skill of the interpreter and marvelling at their technical prowess, here I'm being forced to reassess my attitude to Ysayë the composer. The virtuosity is breathtaking, the tuning immaculate, the sense of danger is thrilling...yet it's the beauty and power and daring of the music itself that sears the brain; Zehetmair is absolutely at Ysayë's service.

The spacious recording glows with warmth and glitters with detail, and Paul Griffith's notes are highly enjoyable. It's a disc of the year without a shadow of a doubt, but more than that, I think it's one of the best violin records I've ever heard. Now take me out and shoot me; I used to think I could play the violin... --Andrew McGregor

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Christopher J. Sharpe on 31 Oct. 2005
Format: Audio CD
Eugene Ysaye was born in Belgium in 1858 and, having taken up the violin at the age of four, he studied with with Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps. During his lifetime Ysaye was best known as a violin virtuoso. Amongst the composers who dedicated major works to him were Chausson (Poeme), Debussy, Franck (the Violin Sonata) and Saint-Saens. Sadly, ill-health limited his performing career, but not before he had gained almost universal fame. However, these days he is perhaps best known as the composer of these sonatas - even though he lacked formal training.

These are wonderful renditions of this unjustly overlooked repertoire. The sonatas are varied enough to keep ones attention from beginning to end. Ysaye's precursors in solo violin sonoatas were Bach and Paganini and there are clear references to them here. If you appreciate those pieces or simply love the violin, then you will really warm to these works, especially as performed here by Zehetmair. I had heard Zehetmair before in, for example, Szymanowski's Concertos, and not really been grabbed, but the playing here is splendid: true musical sensibility as well as virtuoso technique.

A heart-warming recording and worth every penny!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Okay, so I am an idiot and didn't know about this Ysaye guy. 30 Mar. 2005
By greg taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
For some reason, I recently picked this up. What I happened upon is one of the great treasures of the solo violin repretoire. Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931) was apparently one of the greatest violinists of all time. His performing career only lasted about 25 years due to health issues but as a teacher he was equally impactive. Among others, he taught Fritz Kreisler and George Enescu.
One day after listening to a performance of the Bach Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin by Joseph Szigeti, Ysaye and Szigeti were discussing the relative lack of great material for the solo violin. These sonatas are the result.
They are a magnificent meditation on a lifetime of technique development, of playing Bach, Paganini, Brahms, of listening to gypsy violin and the folk traditions of European music. Ysaye also dedicated each sonata to younger contemporary players incorporating parts of their styles into the pieces as a challenge and inspiration to them. The dedicatees are Szigeti, Kreisler, Quiroga, Crickboom, Enescu and Thibaud. I did not know this (or any of the above info) when first listening to these pieces. But I heard the Kreislerisms immediately. Kreisler leaps out of the phrasing.
But above all it is Bach is that looms over these pieces. Listen to the sample for the first movement of the second sonata on this page. Quotes from Bach are thrown together and distorted in various ways to create new music but music that is very familiar.
My use of "distorted" in the previous sentence is deliberate. Obviously, I am not familiar with other interpretations of these pieces. There are plenty to choose from. Zehetmair is terrific. He has obviously studied these pieces long and hard and thought about how they fit into the tradition. But then I think he decided not to be too concerned with questions of period authenticity and to just play the hell out of these pieces in the moment. Zehetmair plays with an incredible dynamic and tonal range. At times the music is so soft it is hard to hear, at times he hurls phrases like an Olympian god. Zehetmair is able to emphasize the microtonal possibilities of double and triple stops or he can inhabit the center of his tone.
What I am getting at is that this interpretation may be different from what Ysaye intended. It may be a very modern interpretation.
But, on one level, Zehetmair has achieved exactly what Ysaye wanted. This is an exuberant bravura exploration of violin technique using some of the greates source material ever written for the instrument. If you love the Bach pieces, if you love solo violin, you simply must give this CD a listen.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Stunning performance by a thinking virtuoso 21 Nov. 2009
By Y.P. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
There isn't a lot to be found in the repertoire of the unaccompanied solo violin. Arguably, the most famous pieces in this genre are J.S. Bach's unaccompanied sonatas and partitas (BWV 1001-6) in the 18th Century, and Nicolai Paganini's 24 caprices in the 19th Century.(*) Indeed, these 2 were obviously in Ysaÿe's mind when he composed his 6 sonatas for unaccompanied solo violin in 1924.(**) There are quotes and paraphrases from Bach's unaccompanied and Paganini's caprices. The listeners can easily find "anchors" along the listening path through these 6 sonatas.

These 6 sonatas were dedicated to 6 famous violinists of the younger generation. It was said that Ysaÿe was inspired by Szigeti's performance of Bach's unaccompanied, and the first one was dedicated to him. Here the 4-movement structure, from slow to fast with fuge in the second movement, as well as the g minor key, is reminiscent of Bach's work in the same key. The second sonata, dedicated to Thibaud, has direct quotes from Bach's Partita in E, as well as the famous Dies Irae from the Gregorian chant. The third sonata "Ballade", dedicated to Enescu, is probably the most frequently performed in the second half of the 20th Century. (For example, it was in David Oistrakh's programs often.) Bach is again very much in presence in the fourth, which was dedicated to Kreisler. The fifth and sixth were dedicated to Belgian violinist Crickboom and Spanish violinist Quitoga, respectively.

These works demand a performer who possesses virtuosity as well as musicality. In other words, a "thinking virtuoso". Thomas Zehetmair, who seems to have close ties with both contemporary composers and historically informed performance groups, is one in this rare breed. Indeed, this recorded performance has the striking virtuosity, visceral intensity, and rhythmic suppleness, all that without losing the structural soundness. Even though I haven't heard many performances of these sonatas, it's hard to imagine a better performance. In other words, it is a stunning performance which deserves a place in any collection of violin music.

The liner notes are written by the renowned Paul Griffiths. For once, I felt that his prose trumps the substance, and it falls short of the high standard he sets for himself. Nevertheless it's entertaining and informative.

Most highly recommended.

(*) There are obviously many other well-known pieces. From Biber's Pasacaglia (c. 1674) to Bartok's Sonata (1944, commissioned By Menuhin). It should be noted that around the same time Bach was composing (c.1720) his "revolutionary" solo pieces, Locatelli, "the Paganini of the 18th century", also composed 24 virtuoso caprices for unaccompanied violin in "L'arte del violino" (c.1730), and Telemann his 12 fantasias (c.1735).

(**) Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe was born in Liège (Belgiuim), 16 July 1858, and died in Brussels, 12 May 1931. He was a violinist, composer and conductor. Here is what the Grove says about him:

"Ysaÿe's playing influenced three generations of violinists. He abandoned the old style of Joachim, Wieniawski, Sarasate and Auer for one that combined rigorous technique and forceful sound with creative freedom on the part of the interpreter. To younger players such as Enescu, Flesch, Huberman, Kreisler, Szigeti and Thibaud he was an example of absolute devotion to his art, and the virtuosos of his own generation.... At the turn of the century, he was regarded as supreme among violinists... the wonderful sound, his technique (including the variety of his vibrato) and his interpretation were captivating....

Ysaÿe was long regarded as important in the development of the modern style of violin playing. He also represented a synthesis of the qualities of Franco-Belgian violin playing before virtuosity became an end in itself. To Ysaÿe, virtuosity was indispensable (he admired Paganini and Vieuxtemps), but as a means to re-create the music, rather than mere exhibitionism...."
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Zehetmair brings out the beauty of the pieces 23 July 2007
By dm - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I've noticed that not many violinists have put these pieces to record. Is it because of their technical difficulty and the fact that Ysaye doesn't have the catchet of Bach or Paginini?

I have the Shumsky recording of these pieces, and while he shows the virtuosity of the works, I don't really hear the beauty and grace of them.

Zehetmair, however, plays these with impeccable virtuosity and also lends a depth and beauty to the pieces that I hadn't heard before.

It sounds like Zehetmair is leaning towards conducting these days; lets hope that he continues to bring out excellent recordings such as this one.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Colossal - this transcends hollow virtuosity 28 May 2006
By Colin White - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This recording is one that I hold quite dear, and it's somewhat ironic that I found it by accident at my library. While I haven't heard any other recordings of these pieces, I am fully ready to say that Zehetmair's technical perfection and emotional range is nothing short of masterful. This repertoire is currently my favorite for the instrument, as I think it suits the violin's unique qualities more than any other works written for it (yes, including paganini and bach).

The liner notes speak of being alone; indeed, nothing but the sound of solitude will pour from your speakers. Ysaye's emotions scream through the violin like only a complete master can compose. From the grimmest sobbing of the bass strings to the hellish pierce of the high notes, my emotions are rarely as stirred and moved as they are from this musical genius. Where super-high notes seemed to be showy flourishes in the past, Ysaye uses them with artistry and reserve that throws the instrument into an entirely different, and many times unsettling, light.

This is what music is about. This music reaches beyond the violin and mere technical flair, it is art of the grandest form. Ysaye's composing is incredibly personal and intricate. I can't believe Ysaye hasn't received more recognition. It's absurd that most of the recordings are out of print.

I highly recommend this recording to anyone interested. And spread the word, Ysaye deserves it.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant Works for Solo Violin 23 Dec. 2005
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931) was one of the wonders of the music world when he dominated the scene as the greatest violinist of his day. Unfortunately his performing career was relatively short, but his legacy lives on through his compositions for his chosen instrument, compositions that challenge the every best violinists to reach beyond human capabilities and 'play like the devil'!

This excellent recording of his six Sonatas for Solo Violin is given the kind of performance that will remain a gold standard for some time. Thomas Zehetmair again proves that there are few hurdles he cannot leap and each of the six sonatas are performed with panache, technical brilliance, and zest. The history of the sonatas and the violinists to whom they were dedicated is well known, but it takes performances like these by Zehetmair to point out the subtle references of the dedications.

This is a virtuoso performance of virtuosic compositions and makes a fine addition to everyone's musical library. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, December 05
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