Notes and Editorial Reviews
SOPHIA JAFFÉ, VIOLIN
Sophia Jaffé (vn); Björn Lehmann (pn)
GENUIN 89161 (78:45)
Solo Violin Partita No. 3.
Solo Violin Sonata,
Violin Sonata No. 10
Sophia Jaffé’s debut CD includes challenging works from Bach through Ysaÿe, some of it, like Ysaÿe and possibly Suk, violin music, some of it, like Beethoven and possibly Bach, music for the violin (Shaw’s distinction). Each work displays a facet of this young competition (Deutscher Misikwettbewerb) winner’s musical and instrumental personality.
The title of Suk’s Four Pieces recalls a similar work by his father-in-law, Dvo?ák, although, as Jaffé’s interview points out, Suk displays in them his independence from Dvo?ák’s influence. In any case, the “Quasi Ballata” and the ensuing “Ballata” require an earnest (especially in the “Ballata”) and urgent expressivity (especially in the
) that Jaffé serves up in ample measure. She declines, in the interview, to describe the work as a virtuoso vehicle, noting the violin’s partnership with the piano; she realizes this here with Björn Lehman. The third movement, Un poco triste, however, demands throbbing sensibility (at least in its outer sections), which Jaffé’s tone, rich in the lower registers and strong without sounding steely in the upper ones, helps her to communicate. An occasional somewhat old-fashioned portamento (or at least one that sounds a bit like it) furthers her exposition of the musical argument. The last piece, “Burleska,” has risen almost to the status of a popular encore number; Jaffé doesn’t produce much sparkle (resulting from crisp off-the-string bowings), although she varies the timbres effectively, employing
, for example, on occasion.
The two middle works on Jaffé’s program, Bach’s Solo Partita No. 3 and Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonata No. 2, both demonstrate her ability to make a musical statement without relying on supporting harmonies or timbres. Throughout the famous Preludio of Bach’s work, she variously takes the bow off the string for a measure or two, then puts it back on. She mentions the period-performance movement, but some listeners may question just how far she’s been influenced by it. She doesn’t seem to seek out larger patterns, leaving Bach’s expressive hierarchy relatively flat. Still, she brings a welcome rhythmic piquancy (as well as sharply pointed articulation) to the Loure, which had come to sound almost stodgy in some older performances. And, speaking of period practice, she sprinkles crisp ornaments here and there to enhance the effect of the rapid tempo. She also ornaments the famous Gavotte en Rondeau, discreetly at first, then more amply and even extravagantly; but even purists should find little at which to take offense. Moving the Menuet I and II along also lifts a cloud from them, and Jaffé’s exhilarating playing of the Bourée and Gigue sheds a slightly unfamiliar light on music so frequently heard. Nevertheless, though the third may be the most cheerfully extroverted of Bach’s Partitas, able to bear lightly animating graces and accelerated tempos, the cumulative effect of Jaffé’s personal points of view may not seem to some listeners to further substantially Bach’s musical argument and, paradoxically, to tend more toward monotony than toward revelation.
The first movement (“Obsession”) of Ysaÿe’s solo sonata intertwines the opening of Bach’s partita with arpeggiated references to the
, which erupt suddenly in the midst of quotations from Bach. Ysaÿe marked the articulations very carefully (even the old Schirmer edition reproduced these markings, and there’s a new, corrected
from Henle); but even in this world of exact specification, Jaffé tends to sound a bit fussy, as she does with tempo changes in the second movement’s almost morose peregrinations. The third movement, “Danse des Ombres,” presents a set of variations on the
. Jaffé gives the snaky lines ample time in the chromatic variation to pursue their leisurely course. As the note values become progressively shorter, and especially in the last variation, she reaches a glowing intensity that I’ve only infrequently heard. And her double-stops in the restatement of the theme at the movement’s end boom sonorously. The finale, “Les Furies,” may be one of the most diabolical pieces ever written for violin (compare Milstein’s transcription for solo violin of Liszt’s
). Violinists as diverse as Ruggiero Ricci and Aaron Rosand have re-created its fire and brimstone; momentarily, as when the
and normal bowing, and alternating as well between loud and soft, sometimes reversing the combinations of dynamics and bowings, Jaffé almost equals them. But on the whole, she seems too much the angel fearing to tread in those places where angels supposedly don’t go.
At 27:30, Beethoven’s sonata represents the program’s center of gravity. And Jaffé’s reading with Lehmann discloses a great deal of detail in the first movement, none of it focusing on the trees rather than the forest. The occasional dramatic outbursts seem well planned, providing a contrast to the duo’s generally lyrical approach to the movement. The recorded sound balances the instruments in histrionic as well as in contemplative moments and reveals the warmth and richness of their tonal profiles, both joint and individual (hers almost as honeyed as Mischa Elman’s, especially in the slow movement). Their engrossing dialogue makes time melt away. In the slow movement, they adopt a tempo that prevents the theme from bogging down and yet enables Jaffé’s lyricism to probe (and she possesses the tonal resources to touch listeners in climaxes). They impart an almost Schubertian mix of cockiness and poignancy to the Scherzo, and a genial graciousness to the final movement. Listen to Francescatti and Casadesus, for example, on Sony 46342, to hear that kind of elegance, although with a touch of urgency, or with an impish touch in the reading by Fritz Kreisler and Franz Rupp. If their way doesn’t seem so arch as Francescatti’s nor so
(though perhaps surprisingly forward-moving) as Kreisler’s, it’s their own, and it’s deeply satisfying.
For those who collect recordings of prize winners and young violinists, Genuin’s release should be self-recommending. For those seeking communicative and significant performances of major repertoire, Jaffé’s reading of Beethoven with Lehmann may be a sleeper. On the basis of that (though also for the insightful performance of Suk and the at least fresh one of Bach), I heartily recommend the collection.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Pieces (4) for Violin and Piano, Op. 17 by Josef Suk
Sophia Jaffe (Violin),
Björn Lehmann (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1900; Prague, Czech Republ
Venue: Siemensvilla, Berlin, Germany
Length: 18 Minutes 25 Secs.
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