Franck • Ligeti • Messiaen • Ravel
Ravel: Violin Sonata posthume; Franck: Violin Sonata; Ligeti: Duo; Messiaen: Thème et variations
ECM 4816781 55:00 mins
Another recording of Franck’s Violin Sonata? Yes, but here’s a masterclass in how to make it sound fresh. First, Duo Gazzana – sisters Natascia and Raffaella – hasn’t settled for an obvious programme. Rarities by Ravel, Ligeti and Messiaen join this Romantic warhorse. Subtle links abound: Ravel modelled his early Sonata (published posthumously) on Franck and Fauré, for instance; Messiaen wrote his Theme and Variations as a marriage gift for his first wife, while Franck wrote his Sonata for the wedding of Eugène Ysaÿe. If none of the pieces quite equal the Franck, nothing falls seriously short.
The A major Sonata is a big work, with four movements musing on the same motifs, and the Gazzanas have evidently thought exactly how best to convey its architecture. Not for them a performance driven by the heart: their expansive approach is clear-eyed and understated. They think in paragraphs rather than sentences. The sense of journey through the beautifully sculpted ‘Recitative-Fantasia’ and then arrival at the final Allegretto is unerring.
It’s an authoritative performance. At times, though, the dry edge to the ECM sound left me yearning after the golden world conjured by violinist Augustin Dumay and pianist Louis Lortie (Onyx). Ligeti’s Duo is recorded here for the first time. This slight piece dates back to 1946 when Ligeti, like Bartók before him, drew inspiration from Hungarian and Romanian folk music. Perhaps a gutsier approach would have added something here, but the poise the Gazzanas bring to both Ravel and Messiaen is impressive.