Ysaye: Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ysaye
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27
PERFORMER: Thomas Zehetmair (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 472 6872

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‘Passionately expert’ were the words I used in connection with Thomas Zehetmair’s recording of the third of Ysaÿe’s six solo sonatas when it appeared coupled to the Holliger Violin Concerto (reviewed last September). That isn’t the half of it. This is wonderful playing: poetically sensitive to the nuances of the music, with an enormous tonal and dynamic range, and never sounding effortful, even in the most testing writing. At the opening of the First Sonata, Zehetmair propels the melodic line with impeccably tuned multiple stops in a combination of power and lyricism; later he manages the most delicate tremolando as the movement fades into silence. Other contenders tend to be able to do one or the other: Leonadis Kavakos (BIS) has the thrust, and Philippe Graffin (Hyperion) the tenderness, but neither balances contrapuntal strands with Zehetmair’s astonishing ease. There are countless moments of heart-stopping perfection – the subdued, muted ‘Malinconia’ movement of the Second Sonata, or the sonorous pizzicati that follow, the whole Sonata shot through with the ‘Dies irae’; the flexibility of portamento and rubato in the dance movements of the Fourth Sonata. This is somewhere where veteran Oscar Shumsky (Nimbus) comes close to Zehetmair in musicality, but not in technical command. In the Fifth Sonata there’s a more improvisatory feel to Ysaÿe’s impressionist picture of dawn, where Zehetmair perfectly judges the silences which punctuate the music before it wells up to embrace the day. And the Sixth Sonata, complete with habañera, is dispatched with a Spanish gypsy flavour which no one else manages with such intensity. If you think you’re allergic to the solo violin, this will cure you.

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Martin Cotton