Les Saisons Françaises
Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor; L Boulanger: Deux morceaux for Violin and Piano; Ravel: Violin Sonata in A minor ‘Sonate posthume; Poulenc: Violin Sonata, FP 119 (1949 version); Violin Sonata, FP 119 – Presto tragico (1942 version)
Anna Ovsyanikova (violin), Julia Sinani (piano)
Stone Records 5060192780963 56:59 mins
All three sonatas on this disc pose problems. In the Debussy, one challenge is to interpret the 27 time changes in a first movement of less than six minutes, ensuring that Tempo I is the same each time. These artists come close, but one or two of its appearances are on the slow side, and this matters in a work where the treatment of time is as much the subject as anything melodic. The early Ravel movement, which we now know was for a sonata he never pursued, contains some prophetic harmonies, but performers have a hard job making the sections cohere, and certainly there’s a case for speeding up some of the overlong ‘till-readies’. Poulenc not only took 25 years (from 1918-43) to produce a violin sonata he was more or less happy with, but then immediately fell out of love with it, despite revising the last movement in 1949; both versions are played here. This is the experimental Poulenc, treating us to a Cubist portrait by Picasso of Maurice Chevalier, with a cigarette poking out of one ear and the inevitable straw boater balanced on his nose.
Both players have fine techniques, but I would have liked a clearer ‘sur la touche’ in the Poulenc ‘Intermezzo’; and, in the Ravel especially, the violin’s middle register is sometimes overpowered by thick piano chords. The two lovely Boulanger pieces, with their easy, characterful mastery, provide some relief. What might a Boulanger sonata have given us? Mon Dieu!