Six Solo Sonatas; Poème élégiaque*
Jack Liebeck (violin), *Daniel Grimwood (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC100179 82:35 mins
Ysaÿe’s six solo sonatas of 1924 were each dedicated to a fellow virtuoso in the violin firmament. The first four went to Szigeti, Thibaud, Enescu and Kreisler, who were already established names; the remaining two were inscribed to Mathieu Crickboom – a former pupil of Ysaÿe’s – and Manuel Quiroga, whose playing career was cut short tragically in 1937 when he was hit by a truck in New York’s Times Square. The strange thing is that although all six were fabulous players, their semantic and rhetorical instincts were derived from the 19th-century cantabile tradition. Yet Ysaÿe’s music, although by no means modernist, feels at times almost anti-cantabile – at least in the faster movements.
As a result, recordings tend to fall into one of three main camps: those that attempt to impose a cantabile eloquence on Ysaÿe’s often awkwardly displaced material; those that offer an enhanced sense of improvised abandonment; and those who play the sonatas as out-and-out virtuoso blockbusters. This is where Jack Liebeck comes into his own, by offering a beguiling fusion of all three tendencies, and thereby avoiding the ‘edited highlights’ tendency that can easily beset the music’s structural interplay.
Whatever the technical pressures involved, Liebeck maintains his characteristically velvety warmth of sound, gently cushioning any percussive outbursts and segueing between musical events with a naturalness that recalls the music’s original Bachian inspiration. Even when, as in the Second Sonata’s opening ‘Obsession’, the music is splintered by specific Bachian echoes, Liebeck weaves a thoroughly compelling emotional narrative out of the various disparate elements.
The magnificent, piano-accompanied Poème élégiaque provides a heavenly 15-minute interlude halfway through the set.