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Franck, Debussy, Demus: Violin Sonatas

Irnberger / Demus
Release Date: 02/08/2011 
Label:  Gramola   Catalog #: 98895   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jörg DemusClaude DebussyCésar Franck
Performer:  Thomas Albertus IrnbergerJörg Demus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEMUS Sonata Sylvestre. DEBUSSY Violin Sonata. FRANCK Violin Sonata Thomas Albertus Irnberger (vn); Jörg Demus (pn) GRAMOLA 98895 (SACD: 72:10)

Thomas Albertus Irnberger’s booklet notes describe Jörg Demus’s five-movement Violin Sonata, completed in 1994 and dedicated to Irnberger, as making references both to a “bygone age” and to the present. The first movement, “Le Read more Muguet” (referring to lilies of the valley), seems at times to recall Robert Schumann, both melodically and harmonically. Its harmonies, in fact, remain well within 19th-century bounds; its writing for the violin sounds idiomatic, though perhaps including more numerous purely violinistic devices (such as an occasional staccato run) than Schumann himself might have felt comfortable employing. The second movement, “Conte des Fées” (fairy tales), remains within the same expressive ambitus, although its harmonies occasionally slide a bit more chromatically, and offers many opportunities for expressive nuance, opportunities of which Irnberger consistently takes advantage. The third movement, “Chez les Nains” (among the dwarves), a playful scherzo, slyly incorporates a passing reference to Frederic Loewe’s habanera “The Rain in Spain” from My Fair Lady , while the fourth movement, Nocturne, winds sinuously. The last movement, “Le Passereau” (the sparrow), like the other movements, seems almost like a character piece; and, in fact, the whole work presents itself as a suite-like series of impressions strung like so many beads on a colorful thematic thread. Irnberger and Demus give it a richly allusive, unquestionably definitive performance. Irnberger’s notes suggest specific associations, which listeners may consider unnecessary for enjoyment and understanding of its straightforward argument and ingratiating manner. The engineers have balanced the performers and caught the richness of their interaction and the beauty of the sounds of their individual instruments.

In Claude Debussy’s sonata, Irnberger and Demus sound perhaps more agitated. Irnberger scoops expressively and climbs confidently in the first movement, while Demus casts the piano part in a particularly revealing light. Irnberger and Demus bring to the work a clarifying light in a way that Joseph Szigeti and Béla Bartók did in their legendary 1940 recital in the Library of Congress (a performance that still stands near the top—as do so many of Szigeti’s, despite his tendency to technical waywardness). The second movement’s playfulness never sounds less than lambent in their reading, and the last movement’s haunting tremolos never grow darkly suggestive. Part of the reason for the duo’s impression of exceptional wit in this work may derive from a rhythmic alertness that doesn’t degenerate into either fussiness or preciosity.

Irnberger describes César Franck’s sonata in his notes as a narrative of the composer’s infatuation with his student Augusta Holmès, rather than as simply a not-so-simple wedding gift to Eugène Ysaÿe. And around this core idea, Irnberger and Demus have woven a reading that’s well knit, at least once the reader knows the story that generated it (whether the same listener, previously oblivious to this hidden program, might suspect its existence seems less clear). Irnberger is a very different violinist—less grandiose in his conceptions and gestures—than Vadim Repin, who has recently recorded the sonata with Nikolai Lugansky (Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 8794), but he nevertheless rises, perhaps due to his understanding of the work’s program, to a higher-flown rhetoric in the second movement and marshals an equal subtlety of nuance in the first. If their characterization of the Recitativo doesn’t amount to outright barnstorming and they bring less than ecstatic mysticism to the finale, that may be due as much to their wish to remain true to their program than to any weakness in their expressive armamentarium.

On the whole, Irnberger plays his program with a rich tone in the lower registers and soars with thrilling effect into the higher ones—even without the aid of portamentos. His reading of these three sonatas, with sympathetic and at times illuminating support from Demus, should provide listeners with attractive and suggestive alternative views of the two familiar ones and with an engaging introduction to Demus’s genial essay in the genre. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata sylvestre, for violin & piano, Op. 48 by Jörg Demus
Performer:  Thomas Albertus Irnberger (Violin), Jörg Demus (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Austria 
Venue:  Salle de musique Gneis, Salzburg 
Length: 31 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Thomas Albertus Irnberger (Violin), Jörg Demus (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; France 
Venue:  Salle de musique Gneis, Salzburg 
Length: 12 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, M 8 by César Franck
Performer:  Thomas Albertus Irnberger (Violin), Jörg Demus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; France 
Venue:  Salle de musique Gneis, Salzburg 
Length: 26 Minutes 10 Secs. 

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