Art of the Violin = YSAYE: Sonata No. 2 in a, Op. 27; Sonata No. 4 in e, Op. 27; AULIS SALLINEN: Cadenze; DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in g; DAVID LEFKOWITZ: Eli Eli; BACH: Partita No. 2 in d, BWV 1004 – Petteri Iivonen, violin/ Kevin Fitz-Gerald, piano – Yarlung Records 05787 (Gold CD), 77:26 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
It’s hard to believe that Eugene Ysaye composed all six of his Opus 27 violin sonatas in a 24-hour period, but that’s as the legend has it. Ysaye was extraordinarily affected by the works of Bach, and his second sonata even opens with a quotation from the Third Partita. It makes for a bold statement to include two Ysaye pieces on a debut album, but it works very well, and Finnish violinist Petteri Iivonen plays them with requisite abandon and intense musicality.
In fact, this is one of those “surprise” albums that thwart all expectations; we are so used to encountering new and significant talent on the major labels that when someone appears on a lesser label the first reaction is usually “why hasn’t someone else noticed him/her before now?” But the music world is changing, it’s tough on artists trying to get noticed, and often it’s the “secondary” or even vanity labels that come up with the real discoveries. This is what we have here.
Aulis Sallinen is a familiar name to most classical music lovers today, though fewer people know the music than the name. His Cadenze is a fiercely difficult contest piece (the 1965 Sibelius Competition) that is really brought to life by Iivonen’s realization. Eli Eli is taken from Hannah Senesh’s poem that inspired composer David Zehavi to write a popular folk-tune. David Lefkowitz took this tune and wrote a virtuoso piece of great pathos, as the poet Senesh was killed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944 after trying to rescue Hungarian Jews that were to be deported to Auschwitz. This work was commissioned for our performer and has been given around the world.
The sonata by Debussy comes as a real break in the action given on the middle of this disc. I must say that I was little-prepared for the subtlety and delicacy that Iivonen brings to the piece. Debussy is deceptive; over-China-dolling the piece can bring disaster as his textures are always more rigorous than you think. But one must also have a real sense of the gossamer to negotiate this piece, and Iivonen understands this.
The final work is Bach’s monumental Partita No. 2 in D minor, and we get a reading as sinewy and dramatic as I have ever heard. Iivonen skates through the difficulties with a pathos and raw emotion that are quite riveting.
The only thing I would have wished for on this recording is a little more presence in the violin. A volume boost helps, but generally the sound is quite low and sometimes leaves the impression that the tonal qualities are more subdued than I know they must be. An extremely minimalist recording technique was used at Alfred Newman Hall at the University of Southern California in order to capture the wide variety of tonal coloring that Iivonen produces, and that it does. But you might have to turn it up a bit. A thrilling album, well worth considering.
A rich reflections into Rachmaninoff’s oeuvre