Debussy: Violin Sonata; Franck: Violin Sonata; Schmitt: Four Pieces, Op. 25
Franco Mezzena (violin), Elena Ballario (piano)
Odradek ODRCD 385 58:10 mins
The violin sonatas of Franck and Debussy mark the two extremes of French chamber music – the Franck with its sweeping lines and richly chromatic harmonies, the Debussy with its apparent refusal of passion, following rather the composer’s prescription for a French ideal of ‘emotion without epilepsy’. It’s hard therefore to find a violinist equally at home in both camps. Franco Mezzena excels in the Debussy Sonata, where the only faults are the occasional moments when the two players are not quite together, due to Debussy’s frequent demands for ‘tempo rubato’, in his attempts to copy the playing of the gypsy violinist Radics which made you ‘lose awareness of your surroundings’. In the Franck, although Mezzena’s tone is sweet and his technique faultless, it lacks the body required for this music, while his excellent accompanist’s spreading of wide chords (Franck had large hands) does become a little tiring on the ear.
The Four Pieces by Florent Schmitt, dating from 1901 when the composer was in Rome as the winner of the Prix de Rome, belong absolutely to the Franck camp in their thick texture and chromatic habits. Unfortunately Schmitt did not follow Franck in interspersing such textures with breathing spaces (both instruments play almost all the time), nor does he demonstrate Franck’s wonderful melodic gift. Instead, just as we think we’re arriving at a stopping place, (and possibly a tune?) the expected concord turns chromatic à la Wagner, and off we go again.