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French Violin Sonatas - Franck, Ravel, Debussy / Tseng, Dzektser

Tseng / Dzektser / Franck
Release Date: 01/08/2013 
Label:  Fuga Libera   Catalog #: 597   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  César FranckMaurice RavelClaude Debussy
Performer:  Yu-Chien TsengInga Dzektser
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FRANCK Violin Sonata. DEBUSSY Violin Sonata. Suite bergamasque : Clair de lune (arr. Roelens). RAVEL Violin Sonata Yu-Chien Tseng (vn); Inga Dzektser (pn) FUGA LIBERA 597 (64:10)

Fuga Libera presents prize-winning (Paganini and Sarasate competitions, among others) violinist Yu-Chien Tseng Read more (playing a 1732 Guarneri) and pianist Inga Dzektser in a program of violin sonatas by César Franck, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel, with an encore-like piece (Debussy’s Clair de lune ) tucked into the middle. In the opening measures, Tseng (only just 18 at the time of the recording) draws from his instrument a tone as richly nuanced and as thickly textured as Isaac Stern’s (or David Oistrakh’s). But it’s apparent that, not simply content to produce it, he bends it to his will (employing expressive devices, such as leisurely portamentos) to fashion a reading redolent with sensibility. Many notes, in fact, seem almost to throb, but the effect never calls attention to itself in a way that distracts from the musical argument. The engineers have miked him close up, but no heavy breathing disfigures the recorded sound. Dzekster sets the stage stormily for the Allegro , but Tseng proves himself the equal to her (with, perhaps, a bit of a lift from the engineers, who have placed him forward) in the generation of rhapsodic waves of sound. The passagework in this tempestuous movement remains exceptionally clean throughout, an impression, it seems, created more by the violinist’s own technical command than by his closeness to the all-revealing microphones. He and Dzektser crank up slowly to the climax, revealing a strong interest in the movement’s drama. In the Recitativo-Fantasia , Tseng’s closeness may render the climactic passages a bit strident for some listeners accustomed to a more realistic ambiance. The finale glows in the duo’s performance with a light that resembles a laser more than it does a campfire, and they create at the end an overwhelming peroration. Listeners seeking a warmer, less brittle, approach by a young prizewinner (and more nuanced support from the pianist) may prefer Ray Chen’s intense, gloriously rich-toned, and magisterial reading with the sympathetic Noreen Polera (Sony 88697829672, Fanfare 34:6).

To the first movement of Debussy’s Sonata, Tseng and Dzektser bring more strength than whimsy and more discipline than rhapsody (in Fanfare 35:1, I suggested that Jennifer Pike’s performance of Debussy’s sonata—in the same program of Debussy, Ravel, and Franck, on Chandos 10667—exhibited plenty of fantasy indeed); aficionados of this work may find that approach perhaps more in accord with the sonata’s sparer and more delicate manner. Still, there’s enough exploration in the Intermède to make the performance sound unyielding. The finale’s virtuosically stunning at times but also allows (encourages) the performers to engage their combined sense of fantasy—which they do here. Perhaps to balance the harder edge they’ve taken in the sonata, the duo includes a brief transition to Ravel’s Sonata, in the form of an arrangement by Alexander Roelens of Debussy’s popular Clair de lune . In this work, Tseng and Dzektser exchange swords for feathers, creating an atmospheric, romantic reflection.

In Ravel’s sonata, the duo recreates the edgy, if not petulant, incompatibility of the instruments as the composer paired them. If Tseng doesn’t play with the haunting sense of mystery that Joseph Szigeti, or more recently, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien (Hyperion 67820, Fanfare 35:3), brought to its spiky passages, he deploys a chameleon-like tonal adaptability that’s impressive in its own right. Many consider that one of the movement’s most magical moments occurs when the two instrumental parts subtly begin to move together. Szigeti and Carlo Bussotti created a frisson at this moment, but many may feel that Tseng and Dzektser allow it to pass with too little notice. Likewise, in the central Blues , many might find that Tseng slips over almost into parody with his smarmy slides, and Dzektser doesn’t terrorize listeners with the same ferocity that Bussotti brought to the part. The duo hardly lacks virtuosity in the finale, but it seems more brittle, or even abrasive, than electric.

Given the relative youthfulness of the violinist and the variety and challenge of the program, combining as it does three points of view that share something but not a great deal, many listeners may still find this recital well worth hearing as a harbinger of things to come. Those who consider it as a thing in itself may find it less rewarding. Recommended, therefore, most strongly to listeners of the first kind.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

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

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