Ravel • Bloch • Janacek
After recording repertoire by Nielsen and Gade, the Danish performers Christina Åstrand and Per Salo have ventured well beyond their native shores with this fascinating programme of early 20th-century violin sonatas. The virtues of a long-established chamber music partnership are immediately evident in the Ravel, where there is a wonderfully subtle interplay between both instruments in the long sustained melodic lines of the first movement. Åstrand and Salo are equally skilful in the way they negotiate the buildup of tension to the final climaxes in both the Blues movement and the Perpetuum mobile, the latter’s relentless semiquaver passagework dispatched with dazzling bow control by Åstrand.
JanáΩek’s Sonata receives a strongly lyrical and passionate performance. Once again there is much to admire in the players’ sophisticated employment of rubato throughout the Ballada, and the final movement achieves an unusual degree of intimacy, despite the conflicting nature of the material played by the two instruments.
Compared with the Ravel and JanáΩek, Bloch’s Poème mystique of 1924 is a rarity in the concert hall, though Jascha Heifetz famously recorded it in the mid 1950s. A one-movement composition, it is written in Bloch’s typically rhapsodic style and lasts nearly 25 minutes, perhaps outstaying its welcome. Some of its impressionistic writing, however, is extremely atmospheric, replete with sensuously exotic harmonies. Certainly Åstrand and Salo deliver a powerfully committed and evocative account, the only minor caveat being Åstrand’s occasional tendency to force the sound in the highest regions of the violin.
Beautifully recorded in the sumptuous acoustic of Danish Radio’s concert hall, this release offers a welcome bonus in the form of a DVD version of the same programme made several months later.