Two Disc Review: Franck Chamber Works

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Franck; Chausson; R Strauss
LABELS: Aparté; Onyx


Franck • Chausson
Franck: Violin Sonata; Chausson: Concert for violin, piano and string quartet; Poème de l’amour et de la mer –Interlude
Rachel Kolly d’Alba (violin), Christian Chamorel (piano); Spektral Quartet Chicago
Aparté AP102  
68:51 mins

Franck • R Strauss
Franck: Violin Sonata; R Strauss: Violin Sonata, Op. 18; Allegretto in E, AV149; Wiegenlied; Waldseligkeit; Morgen!
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)
Onyx ONYX 4141 
69:39 mins

Few composers are as vitally dependent on their interpreters as César Franck and Ernest Chausson. Certain works respond well to exquisite restraint, others to hot-house sensuality (the Violin Sonata and Concert sextet lie somewhere in-between), but all require a sense of total commitment if their music is to lift off the page.

Rachel Kolly d’Alba and Christian Chamorel respond to the music’s dramatic allure with a passionate intensity that sweeps the music along. Chamorel evocatively underpins the Sonata’s swirling textures with an organ-like propensity for bass fundamentals, while Kolly d’Alba soars aloft, caressing every phrase with captivating inflections. Yet it is Chausson’s elusive Concert that proves the star turn here. From the impassioned opening bars, these inspired musicians sound spellbound by the music’s chromatically-intensified yearnings. In a work prone to structural floundering, they sustain a remarkable grip on its near-constant ebb and flow, while indulging its expressive opulence to the full, throwing caution to the wind with a thrilling concert-hall projection.

If Kolly d’Alba and Chamorel surge along as though surfing ocean waves, in the Franck Sonata James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong experience the more introspective moments as gentle ripples of poetic intimacy. Theirs is masterly playing that relishes the music’s chamber-scale nuancing to the full, while ensuring that the more heated moments lack nothing in impact. Yet (as with Kolly d’Alba) it is in the companion piece in which Ehnes comes out with all interpretative guns blazing. Strauss’s early Sonata is not without its longeurs (in all three movements), yet here the music is so immaculately paced that it feels not a note too long. Avoiding the musical bookending of traditional virtuoso readings, Ehnes and Armstrong make the slow movement the work’s emotional heart, capturing its Mendelssohnian wistfulness to perfection.


Julian Haylock