Bartók Violin Sonatas
Bartok’s First Violin Sonata is notoriously reluctant to yield its secrets. Three expansive movements parade dissonances virtually by the bar; the total playing time is well over half an hour (38 minutes in this particular performance) and allows for absolutely no easing of intensity. The opening Allegro appassionato is a complex essay, to say the least: many have braved its pages and although most available recordings convey the scale of the movement, none is more comprehensively perceptive than this new CD by the young violinist Isabelle Faust. Harmonia Mundi count Faust among the “cream of the new generation of musicians” (this budget-price disc is one of a series devoted to Les Nouveaux Interpretes) and, on the evidence presented here, no one could rightly counter that claim. Ewa Kupiec, who will be familiar to some readers through her recordings on Koch Schwann, provides Faust with motivated support; not, perhaps, as leonine as Richter (with David Oistrakh, EMI, 8/75 – nla) or Argerich (with Kremer), but always attentive to mood and detail.
Faust favours a sensual approach that draws active – and unexpected – parallels with the music of Berg. She ventures deep among the first movement’s more mysterious episodes: listen, for example, to her fragile tone projection from 6'27'' and follow it through for a couple of minutes. This is truly empathetic playing, candid, full of temperament and always focused securely on the note’s centre. The crescendoing processional that sits at the heart of the second movement (5'24'') is charged with suspense and the steely finale suggests an almost savage resolve (try the rocketing glissando ‘take-offs’ from, say, 3'48''). Faust and Kupiec visit corners and perspectives in this score that others merely gloss over, and the recording supports them all the way.
The Solo Sonata is virtually as impressive. Here Faust approaches the music from a Bachian axis: her tone is pure, her double-stopping immaculate (and never abrasive) and her sense of timing acute. She obviously relishes the score’s balance of colour and counterpoint, and her performance is distinguished by a combination of musical intuition and technical finesse (a good place to sample is 5'49'' into the first movement).
I would strongly urge you to purchase this superb disc, even if you already own recordings of both works. Still, as it’s a reviewer’s job to survey the field, I should remind you that Pauk and Jando on Naxos offer forthright performances of the two sonatas (plus Contrasts) and Menuhin is extraordinarily eloquent in the Solo Sonata. Either will do nicely, but Faust is a persuasive narrator; she and her piano partner break down barriers in the First Sonata that, for some readers, will mean the difference between approachability and continuing bafflement. Do give them a try.'