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Franck / Saint-Saëns / Ravel: Violin Sonatas
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Lars Vogt opens the difficult second movement poco marcato, and with excellent forward motion, but then half a minute in and also where this same passagework recapitulates four minutes later, listen to his shaping of sequential lines, into which he lets Chang tacitly wander in, yet without the least amount of strain toward being heard. The repeated note spiccato, approached without the least bit of hesitation and with piquant touch, Chang keeps seamless with the quiet closing theme interlude that has preceded it. Some playing at arguably at too soft a dynamic sounds a bit self-conscious a ways into the third movement, but Chang gives this music the big gesture early on, and Vogt's playing of the reprise of the opening of the sonata sounds truly impressionistic six minutes in.
No movement of any of the three sonatas on this disc is more effective than the finale to the Franck. For once, even after hearing Bell, Perlman (especially affected with Argerich), and Heifetz, the lyrical subject that opens this movement sounds entirely open and not the least bit affected. Vogt extends the time on quarter note octaves on reprise of the big passages from the movement before, to avoid playing with less than firm, fully rounded tone. No other version in stereo or digital of this entire sonata gives the listener a more natural perspective on this music, apart from the Philips with Artur Grumiaux and Gyorgy Sebok (paired with the two Faure sonatas, with J P Crossley at the keyboard). Shaham/Oppitz, paired with the Saint-Saens is a viable alternative, as is to some extent Perlman/Ashkenazy, and even perhaps the too closely recorded Chung/Lupu. Bell/Thibaudet, also on Decca, is dry, antiseptic and inadequately tuned from Joshua Bell at a few critical junctures in it. For historical, continue to rely on the Thibaud/Cortot on EMI.
On first listening, the music in the Saint-Saens D Minor Sonata, seems to succumb a bit to note-spinning. The two artists here, however, under closer scrutiny, sustain interest to the extent that nothing in this sonata, after repeated listening, seems to have been written in anything approaching gratuitous excess. Saint-Saens' deftly pointed manipulation of form is always ever clear, and at the same time, the insouciant charm of this music is never far away. Where Gil Shaham and Gerhard Oppitz (DGG) go for the surface brilliance of the last two movements. Vogt and Chang only fall for bombast right before the end of the finale, but moreover find a tone of introspection for the scherzo and Mendelssohnian play for the finale that elude Shaham and Oppitz. Some lovely arpeggi and mildly spectral sounding trills, to reintroduce the first theme of the adagio is especially compelling from Sarah Chang. This is a version of the Saint-Saens that, if it does not rise to definitive, is as close to getting there as possible without doing so. Five stars here.
Feeling for the Ravel is a little less intimate, confident, assured than for the Saint-Saens especially, but the command of line and colour, especially in passages where it counts, is always just as assured. The most important first movement is entirely very fine, very relaxed in passages with the most sparse writing, solo violin for several pages over moving around in simple perfect fifths from the keyboard. Vogt deftly makes chimes out of parallel major sevenths, whereas Chang in more dramatic rhetoric, cascades over repeated note tremoli, following a piano part that gradually recedes from a harmonically full and dissonantly colored climax. Once having diminished back to bare bones toward the end of this passage, the music leaves Chang's closing tremoli as played near the frog, with such a chill on them to sound practically animistic. For contrast, Chang immediately follows this, with a full-toned and from Vogt long cantabile line, into which she has unobtrusively just found or woven her way "Blues" starts off just about right, loose-limbed enough, if arguably the pizzicati toward the end from Chang are plucked just a little more aggressively than may need to be the case. The perpetuum mobile finale, the first fast movement in the piece, gets its due brilliance and in sharp relief, flashes of colour that early on directly remind of the finale of the G Major Piano Concerto. A passage of less intense repeated note tremoli from Chang is noteworthy and reminds the listener of similar that has occurred in the first movement.
The insightful liner notes make much of Proustian associations for especially the Franck and Saint-Saens, the Saint-Saens sonata in this context being as such to belong to, for playing it at least, Vinteuil, who plays violin in Remembrance of Things Past. The almost consistently poetic sense behind and intimate feeling that imbues so much playing on this disc, and with more detail than I can make note of here, reminisces of a better time past as well.
I obtained this recording recently, packaged together with four other Sarah Chang CD's, as part of this bargain priced box -- Sarah Chang: 5 Classic Albums. That collection is priced similarly to this CD by itself, and for anyone considering purchasing this recording, it is obviously the better deal. The five CD's included in that collection are:
Disc 1: Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor; Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor
Disc 2: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Disc 3: Franck: Violin Sonata; Saint-Saens: Violin Sonata; Ravel: Violin Sonata
Disc 4: Dvorak: Violin Concerto; Piano Quintet
Disc 5: Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1; Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1
These are all excellent performances by Sarah Chang, worthwhile and in some cases highly recommended (see my comments to each release in my review of the 5 CD box). The only down-side to purchasing this recording as a part of that box, rather than as an individual release, is that the small booklet with liner notes that is included with this CD, is not included with the box set collection.
An excellent recording by Sarah Chang, and it is particularly nice to now have it available along with her other recordings in that bargain set.