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Franck, Debussy, Ravel: Violin Sonatas / Jennifer Pike, Martin Roscoe

Franck / Debussy / Ravel / Pike / Roscoe
Release Date: 04/26/2011 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10667   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyCésar FranckMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Jennifer PikeMartin Roscoe
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY Violin Sonata. RAVEL Violin Sonata in G. FRANCK Violin Sonata Jennifer Pike (vn); Martin Roscoe (pn) CHANDOS 10667 (60:05)

Jennifer Pike produces a glowing tone in the lower registers of the 1708 Gofriller violin upon which she plays in her recording of three staples of the Franco-Belgian violin repertoire, and that tone appears from the very beginning of Claude Debussy’s Read more sonata. But she extracts a wide range of timbres from her instrument, which, along with her command of dynamic contrast, enables her to characterize the sonata’s first movement vividly. She and pianist Martin Roscoe bring to the second movement, by similar means—sudden dynamic changes in both instruments and swooping portamentos in the violin—a heady sense of quasi-improvisatory capriciousness, now fanciful, now wheedling, that many older performances by such golden-age violinists as Isaac Stern, David Oistrakh, and even Jascha Heifetz seem to have missed. Pike explores her violin’s lower registers even in the opening of the third movement (while throughout, she plays the rapid running passages with mercurial facility), and Roscoe serves as a challenging conversational partner.

Maurice Ravel’s sonata, emphasizing the incompatibility of the violin and piano duo, has had so intellectual a champion as Joseph Szigeti, whose recording of the work in 1953 with Carlo Bussotti, though made when Szigeti no longer produced a steady tone, still plumbs its depths and represents one sort of standard for the work’s success in performance. By comparison, Pike and Roscoe sound, in the first movement, relatively static, more likely than the older artists to pause to investigate than to work relentlessly Ravel’s quirky program. Many will feel that in this sonata, her sense of timbre doesn’t help her move things forward—and that slowing down before the ending doesn’t either. From her playing of the second movement of Debussy’s sonata, it would seem that she possesses the fantasy to belt Ravel’s “Blues,” but she doesn’t seem so ready as even Szigeti to get down and dirty, at least until the end of the movement. Those who listened to Yehudi Menuhin’s collaborations with Stéphane Grappelli will remember that Menuhin sounded stiff rather than fluent in this genre, which must have been unfamiliar—though not repugnant—to him. Similarly, Pike sounds more like an audience member than a torch singer here. Nevertheless, she possesses the technical command, as Roscoe does the strength, to make a greater effect in the moto perpetuo (with its resemblance to the last page of Tzigane ) that brings the sonata to a close. Violinists who have made a greater impact in this work, in this way of thinking, have generally taken Szigeti’s tack, while others, like Arthur Grumiaux, who avoid the mud puddles, emerge at the end cleaner but less interesting.

César Franck’s sonata, which brings the program to a close—and, in fact, constitutes in itself almost half of its length—provides another opportunity for Pike to display her timbral subtlety; this time, she seems once again in her element, in a way that, say, Isaac Stern wasn’t. Roscoe revels in the first movement’s rolling passages, and both performers deploy considerable subtlety, rather than simply relying on headlong energy in the second movement (though they’re both impassioned enough in the appropriate passages). In the third, they sound introspective rather than strong-minded, though their ability to find unfamiliar ways to make the most familiar gestures continually freshens their reading. Jascha Heifetz’s opening of the third movement sounds much more introspective, or even tentative, in his last recital, available in the Original Jacket Collection, while David Oistrakh’s could be more aggressive, as, for example, in his live performance with Sviatoslav Richter in December 1968 (Mobile Fidelity 909), which, however, turns introspective after the opening measures. Pike and Roscoe’s reading of the finale rises to moments of eloquence and a rapturous recall of the recitative-like passage from the third movement.

Strongly recommended for the vivid, clear, and clean recorded sound, with its wide dynamic range, and for the fanciful reading of Debussy’s sonata. The recommendation for Franck’s might be a bit less urgent, and for Ravel’s, only mildly enthusiastic, so those who consider the disc as a whole program rather than as offering an exceptional performance of one or two of its works might pause to consider.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Jennifer Pike (Violin), Martin Roscoe (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, M 8 by César Franck
Performer:  Jennifer Pike (Violin), Martin Roscoe (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Jennifer Pike (Violin), Martin Roscoe (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923-1927; France 

Sound Samples

Violin Sonata in G minor: I. Allegro vivo
Violin Sonata in G minor: II. Intermede: Fantastique et leger
Violin Sonata in G minor: III. Finale: Tres anime
Violin Sonata in G major: I. Allegretto - Andante - Rallentando
Violin Sonata in G major: II. Blues: Moderato
Violin Sonata in G major: III. Perpetuum mobile: Allegretto
Violin Sonata in A major, M. 8: I. Allegretto ben moderato
Violin Sonata in A major, M. 8: II. Allegro - Quasi lento - Allegro - Poco piu lento
Violin Sonata in A major, M. 8: III. Recitativo - Fantasia : Ben moderato - Molto lento - Ben moderato - - - Moderato - Molto lento e mesto
Violin Sonata in A major, M. 8: IV. Allegretto poco mosso

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