FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; Melancolie; Prelude, Fugue and Variation in B Minor, Op. 18 (arr. Dumay and Lortie); R. STRAUSS: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18; Auf stillem Waldespfad, Op. 9, No. 1 (arr. Heifetz) – Augustin Dumay, v./ Louis Lortie, p. – Onyx 4096, 73:10 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
French violinist Augustin Dumay (b. 1949) and pianist Louis Lortie (b. 1959) combine (rec. 24-26 September 2012) in two staples of the late-Romantic period, the 1887 Violin Sonata in E-flat Major of Richard Strauss and its virtual contemporary, the 1886 Violin Sonata in A Major by Cesar Franck. Opting for quick brisk tempos, Dumay does not linger sentimentally over phrases, so he takes the ”heroic” aspects of the Strauss – the first gesture reminiscent of the Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata – at one breath, its swagger and self-assurance decidedly in the German mode, even to the point of a passing quote (in the second movement) from the Pathetique Sonata in C Minor. The grand vocalism of the opening movement anticipates the later operatic writing in Strauss, with intimations of Brahms, although the appassionato character of the first motif threatens to overwhelm the music’s expressive episodes. Crisp limpid figures from Lortie keep our ears attuned to the “water” aspects of the singing line. The stormy movment possesses a demonic fervor, a kind of improvisational homage to the sturm und drang impulse.
The tender Improvisation: Andante cantabile Strauss composed in 1888, a year after the outer movements. Schubert’s Der Erlkoenig makes its own appearance in the middle of the idyll, a feverish gesture that Dumay urges into the stratosphere. Lortie then takes the piece back into sunny and crystalline shards of sound, shades of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words with violin obbligato. The last movement opens darkly, much in the manner of the Brahms Op. 5 F Minor Sonata, then explodes in the heroic mold of the first movement. More scherzando than risoluto, the music scampers about until Dumay announces a fine melody over the piano’s rich arpeggios and block chords. Inevitably, the music’s skittish character returns, interrupted by colossal chords from Lortie that well anticipate Rachmaninov. The scherzando affect wins, with Strauss settling for a gruffly bold bravura rather than silky finesse as his farewell gesture.
The little song “On a Tranquil Forest Path” comes from a set of Stimmungsbilder (1884), which here enjoys a 1951 Heifetz arrangement, decorative and passionately restrained, with Lortie’s intimating runs from Schubert’s Die Forelle melody.
The exquisite Sonata in A of Franck receives a loving rendition from Dumay and Lorite, a performance of poise and passionate girth at once, consistently architectural in its echo effects, canons, and constant transformation of economical energies, mostly in major and minor thirds. Grand fire marks the second movement, with Dumay’s rasping attacks setting sparks that ignite Lortie’s virtuoso piano part as well, molto fuocoso at one extreme and dolcissimo espessivo at the other. The forever beguiling Recitativo-Fantasia recycles the opening motif in the spirit of improvisation, but with a decisive air of intimacy that history tells us Belgian master Eugene Ysaye achieved in the work’s world premier. The incense burns bright as Dumay and Lortie wend their way through a series of chromatic labyrinths that often resolve into a liquefied series of upward scales, dissolving into a dolcissimo melody. The gracious simplicity of means of the last movement, in increasingly passionate canon, attaches itself to the motifs of prior movements and achieves a splendidly vivid, even manic, peroration, a performance that tenders to the salon while filling the requirements of the concert hall.
Melancolie (c. 1885) appears to be a kind of solfege exercise in E Minor in ternary form. Franck marks the piece Poco lento but its middle section becomes more animated. It was Harold Bauer and Alfred Cortot who transcribed Franck’s 1862 organ piece Prelude, Fugue and Variation for keyboard solo. Paul Lemaitre adapted the piece for violin and piano, but Dumay and Lortie realize their own arrangement. The delicate oboe stop opening of the original organ piece – which I first heard courtesy of E. Power Biggs – goes to the violin over staccato keyboard notes. The five-bar phrases pass through Dumay’s instrument like melted butter. Lortie takes up the brief chorale tune that segues into the three-part fugue marked Allegretto ma non troppo but which can become quite symphonic in resonance. The Variation simply absorbs the opening figure for the violin to reunite with Lortie’s sailing keyboard part.
Quite an attractive album, this disc, despite the cover photo of Augustin Dumay, who here resembles Gary Oldman in his portrayal of Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s film. The personal images on Dumay’s own site do him better aesthetic justice.