An American in Paris / Waley-Cohen, Watkins

Release Date: 7/30/2013
Label: Champs Hill
Catalog Number: CHRCD059
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Tamsin Waley-Cohen (vn); Huw Watkins (pn) CHAMPS HILL 059 (72:15)

POULENC Violin Sonata. IVES Decoration Day. GERSHWIN (arr. Heifetz) An American in Paris. Porgy and Bess: Summertime & A Woman Is a Sometime Thing; My Man’s Gone Now; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Bess, You Is My Woman Now; Tempo di Blues. RAVEL Violin Sonata

Violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and pianist Huw Watkins present a program of music that’s both American and French, with some of the pieces tracing the interconnections between the two styles—or at least nationalities. The program opens with a virtual gunshot—both violinist and pianist bring tremendous energy and tongue-in-cheek stylishness to the opening movement of Francis Poulenc’s Violin Sonata. But they’re successful not only in the bantering moments, but in the sinuous passages as well, in which the 1721 Fenyves Stradivari sounds both commanding and tonally suggestive—so much so that Waley-Cohen’s performance (as well as Watkins’s) seems to unlock many hidden beauties (and a hidden sauciness, as well) in the work. They recreate slinky reflectiveness in the slow movement, and Waley-Cohen revels in the slinkiest of those moments. In the Finale, they chatter in Poulenc’s almost offhand garrulous manner, without losing the sharp edge to which they’ve honed its gestures. Performances like this one make the Sonata seem like much more than a second-rate throwaway—Poulenc dedicated it to the memory of Federico García Lorca, and its tragic pages suggest that he didn’t think of it simply as a pleasant divertimento.

Andrew Stewart’s notes relate that Charles Ives’s Decoration Day , perhaps a tribute by Ives fils to Ives père , quotes David W. Reeves’s Second Regiment Connecticut National Guard Quickstep , one of the elder Ives’s favorites ( Taps also makes an appearance). Waley-Cohen and Watkins seem as comfortable in the piece’s gauzier, more atmospheric sections as in its most flamboyant, extroverted ones; and she avoids the irreverence with which some performers and conductors revel in Ives’s quotations.

Jascha Heifetz worked on his arrangement of An American in Paris during his retirement, with his violinist-pianist student Ayke Agus. In this piece, many listeners may find neither Heifetz’s electricity nor the jazzy impudence they often associate with the various sections.

The duo takes the first movement of Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata at a quick tempo that almost precludes the kind of nuance that two of its most illustrious exponents, Joseph Szigeti and Zino Francescatti, discovered in it. In its middle section, however, they recreate its mystery just about as effectively as did those older violinists and their pianists (Carlo Bussotti and Artur Balsam, respectively, on recordings), without quite reaching the level of eerie terror those earlier duos achieved in the tremolo climax. They bring the movement to a satisfyingly quiet conclusion. Their recreation of Ravel’s impression of jazz seems about a cheeky as any, with a sonorousness in the violin’s pizzicatos that recalls Szigeti’s in particular. They adopt a breakneck tempo in the Finale and bring to it the full adrenaline punch its closing pages pack (if Szigeti’s bowing hadn’t been so compromised technically when he recorded the work in 1953, he might have sounded just like this).

The program closes with five more Heifetz transcriptions of Gershwin. In “Summertime” and “A Woman is a Sometime Thing,” as in An American in Paris , Waley-Cohen slides a bit and adopts a sort of passionate manner, but she simply doesn’t have Heifetz’s wow technique, and that’s the standard he set in these pieces. It’s fortunate for listeners that anyone who wants to can hear him; but for others who might follow, unfortunate indeed. Heifetz could suggest a sultry atmosphere while holding himself well above the basest wallowings. He sounds as though he could sin—and insouciantly so—if he wanted to; Waley-Cohen seems constitutionally too reserved for sin—or, at least, too young. But she’s affectingly mournful in “My Man’s Gone Now” and takes a creditable stab at a sort of torch singing in “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (and sounds appropriately spiky in the middle section—perhaps she has it in her after all). She’s ingratiating in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and equally so in Tempo di Blues , with a pleasantly sharp edge to boot.

If Waley-Cohen isn’t Heifetz (yet), she’s very nearly Szigeti, and that’s saying a lot—a revelation, really, in her very first recording. (For some listeners, that should be more important than any impression she could create by equaling Heifetz in sheer electricity.) The engineers have swathed her tone in just about the right amount of reverberation, and the release as a whole should appeal to just about everyone: to those who follow young violinists, to those who look for precocious maturity, and to those who simply wish to be wowed. Wow us all she does. Urgently recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
1. Sonata for Violin and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Performer: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
2. An American in Paris by George Gershwin
Performer: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1928 ; USA
3. Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major by Maurice Ravel
Performer: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1923-1927 ; France
4. Decoration Day for Violin and Piano by Charles Ives
Performer: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1912 ; USA
5. Selections (5) from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, arrangement for violin & piano by Jascha Heifetz
Performer: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: Post-Romantic
Written: 1944 ;
6. Tempo di Blues, arrangement for violin & piano (after Gershwin's Porgy and Bess) by Jascha Heifetz
Performer: Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: Modern
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