Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jacques Israelievitch (vn); Kanae Matsumoto (pn)
FLEUR DE SON 58005 (72:18)
Elsewhere in this issue, in a review of a string quartet by Alexis Castillon, I mention that my introduction to
Castillon came many years ago on an Ophélia CD containing his Violin Sonata in C Major, which was coupled with Gabriel Pierné’s Violin Sonata, op. 36. At the time I acquired that recording, Pierné’s sonata—indeed, Pierné himself—was not as well represented in the catalog as today, but since then, the work has appeared at least 10 times on disc. However—and this is a very big “but”—all but two of those recordings present the piece in a transcription for flute, and one of those two presents it in a transcription for cello. Not counting this new version, only one relatively recent recording I know of—a two-disc collection of Pierné’s chamber music on Timpani—gives the sonata, as written, for violin and piano. That set, by the way, was reviewed by Adrian Corleonis in 30:6. Pierné’s sonata, of course, is not the only violin sonata to be taken up by flutists and cellists—Franck’s famous sonata has likewise been transcribed—but it does strike me as rather unusual for a piece composed for violin to find itself outnumbered by performances on another instrument.
Gabriel Pierné (1863–1937) was a student of Franck at the Paris Conservatory, but not in composition. Franck was Pierné’s instructor in organ. For composition, Pierné studied with Massenet. In his lifetime, Pierné was known mainly as an organist and conductor. He succeeded Franck on the organ bench at St. Clotilde, and as conductor, he held the podium at the Ballets Russes until 1933, leading the premiere of Stravinsky’s
in 1910. As a composer, too, Pierné was quite active, composing a number of operas, ballets, and orchestral works, as well as chamber works, incidental music for theater productions, and pieces for solo piano.
Pierné composed his violin sonata, his only work in the form, in 1900. The supple, running piano figuration over which the violin weaves a lyrical, chromatic line is vaguely reminiscent of Saint-Saëns’s D-Minor Sonata, and even more evocative of the first of Fauré’s violin sonatas, the one in A Major, op. 13, written in the same year as the Saint-Saëns. The difference is that Pierné’s score lacks both the boldness and dramatic urgency of the Saint-Saëns, as well as the inspired melodic and harmonic originality that informs the Fauré.
Considering that Saint-Saëns’s and Fauré’s sonatas were written in 1875, a quarter of a century earlier, and that even before 1900, Debussy had already written some of his most famous works—the G-Minor String Quartet,
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
, the three orchestral
, and most of
Pelléas et Mélisande
— Pierné’s sonata can’t really be called a progressive work. It is, however, very pretty, perhaps in a manner not unlike some of the salon pieces by Pierné’s approximate contemporary, Reynaldo Hahn. Listening to Pierné’s sonata, it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular among flutists, though the score does contain double-stops for which the flute player has to find a solution, just as in the Franck sonata.
Poulenc’s Violin Sonata, composed in 1943, was premiered by the violinist Ginette Neveu and the composer shortly after it was completed. Dedicated to the memory of famed Spanish poet, García Lorca, who was killed by the fascists at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the piece abstains from Poulenc’s well-known burlesque vulgarities. The music is in the composer’s most serious cast, projecting feelings of both genuine sorrow and barely suppressed rage at Lorca’s senseless murder.
French-born violinist Jacques Israelievitch is well known as a soloist, recording artist, teacher, and former concertmaster and assistant concertmaster of the St. Louis and Chicago Symphony orchestras, respectively. Israelievitch is partnered in this program by Japanese-born pianist Kanae Matsumoto. She holds graduate degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is currently on the piano faculty of UCLA’s music department. Together, Israelievitch and Matsumoto perform these works with superb technical skill, tonal allure, and communicative power. I’ve not heard the above-cited recording of the Pierné reviewed by Corleonis, or, for that matter, either of the other two recordings of the piece he mentions, but, as noted, I do have the performance by Aurelio Perez and Ronan Magill on Ophélia, and I can say without hesitation that Israelievitch and Matsumoto are more technically secure and musically convincing. The sound too on this new Fleur de Son recording is a marked improvement.
There is, however, something else to consider. The coupling on the Ophélia CD, Castillon’s violin sonata, was the work’s world premiere recording, and, to the best of my knowledge, it has not been recorded again since. It’s a beautiful piece and well worth having, whereas the other sonatas on this new release—Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc—are all standard fare among violinists and have been recorded many times over, meaning there’s a good chance that three-quarters of this album is apt to duplicate recordings you already have.
The performances by Israelievitch and Matsumoto are excellent and certainly recommendable on their own, but one can’t be blamed for wishing that such fine players had lavished their talents on less well-known repertoire, like the Castillon, which is sorely in need of a new recording, especially by artists of this caliber.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Jacques Israelievitch (Violin),
Kanae Matsumoto (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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