Notes and Editorial Reviews
The mercurially immediate appeal of Guillaume Lekeu’s Violin Sonata has kept it in the fringe repertoire, attracting distinguished interpreters (to say nothing of the irrepressible legion of the mediocre) in classic disc performances beginning with the young Menuhin in 1938 and including Lola Bobesco, Arthur Grumiaux, and the dynamite team of Augustin Dumay and Jean-Philippe Collard. Albéric Magnard’s work—unless I’ve missed something—receives here only its fifth recorded performance and the only one currently available. A late discovery, the Violin Sonata remains virtually unknown. Magnard’s neglect owes both to his passing at the beginning of the Great War and to the peculiarly saturnine properties of his music. By the time the
carnage was over, the Jazz Age was in full swing, followed closely by the rival claims of Stravinsky’s neo-Classicism and Schoenberg’s atonality dividing the camp followers of the “advanced.” In this atmosphere, the Franck legacy, which Magnard inherited from his teacher, d’Indy, and the Beethoven worship evident in his most ambitious works, were decidedly vieux jeu and would require fully two generations—70 years—to take on the aura of old gold. Nor is his Violin Sonata an easy work to know. The repeated exposition of its first movement, for instance, beset with pseudo-improvised feints, is at once sculpted and quivering, its lyricism aristocratically aloof yet exquisitely vaulting. The upshot, like the man himself, is abrupt and disconcerting. For the connoisseur, that means substantial, fascinating, a work meeting Wallace Stevens’s requirement for poetry—that it resist the intellect almost successfully. Muresanu and Ciocarlie seem at home in it, the former singing and soaring with aplomb, the latter—hand-in-glove—whipping up Magnard’s symphonically conceived piano-writing with attuned dexterity; though, for ultimate finesse, the collector will want the 1989 Dumay/Collard account (nla EMI 49890). Lekeu’s Sonata is served with sizzling verve on either side of the central berceuse—given with a rapt mixture of poetry and gentle élan—a performance competitive with any (but, again, marginally overtopped by Dumay and Collard in a 1981 LP album, EMI C 73037).
Liner notes by Nicolas Southon, drawing on Simon-Pierre Perret’s biography, Albéric Magnard (Paris: Fayard, 2001), recounts the first meeting of the composers at the 1889 Bayreuth Festival—the effusive Lekeu, Franck’s last composition pupil, living at the edge of his skin, and Magnard, the hardboiled Parisian boulevardier, did not exactly hit it off. Sound is boxy in quieter passages, the piano slipping into recess, but detailed, balanced, and immediate as things get going. A valuable, vivacious issue; enthusiastically recommended.
FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
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