CHAUSSON Concert FRANCK Violin Sonata
Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano and string quartet is chamber music, of course, yet displays a symphonic character that justifies the title. Some performances, such as the superb Decca recording by Pierre Amoyal, Pascal Rogé and the Ysaÿe Quartet, underscore the work’s quasi-orchestral heft; others, like the classic Columbia account by Zino Francescatti, Robert Casadesus and the Guilet Quartet, present a more intimate view. In this dazzling new version, Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov and the Salagon Quartet seem to be staking out a middle ground.
Faust and the quartet use vibrato rather sparingly, which clarifies the often intricate texture and creates a luminosity that, while lacking in bite and body, conjures and maintains a spellbinding, moonlit atmosphere. Note, for example, the pearlescent opacity of the passage at 6'26" in the first movement, and the almost spectral quality at the beginning of the finale – worlds away from the playful (yet equally magical) reading by Francescatti, Casadesus et al. Yet there’s no lack of drama. Indeed, Faust, Melnikov and the Salagon frequently bring Chausson’s fascination with Wagner to the fore and even anticipate the languorous sensuality of Scriabin (listen from 4'35" in the first movement), thanks in large part to Melnikov’s judicious phrasing.
Franck’s Violin Sonata is equally impressive. Here, again, Faust uses vibrato prudently, and in general finds intense expressivity in restraint and emotional directness. Pianissimo passages beckon in secretive, confessional whispers, and the sometimes blunt rhetoric of Franck’s style is allowed to speak for itself without overemphasis or apology. The electricity of the third-movement Recitativo-Fantasia, for instance, is conveyed not with bold gestures but through quiet, sustained tension, so that even the most sparsely textured passage keeps one on the seat’s edge. Melnikov’s tone can harden in loud passages, but this may be partly the fault of the engineering, which is pleasingly resonant yet also strangely muffled. In any case, the interpretations are so committed and forthright that any occasional sonic blemish is only momentarily distracting. The Decca recording with Amoyal and Rogé offers the same coupling in better sound but seems overwrought in comparison. Those looking for greater passion and tonal warmth in this repertoire are urged to hear a recent Aparté release with Rachel Kolly d’Alba, Christian Chamorel and the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet.