FAURÉ; FRANCK Violin Sonatas
What does a disc of Romantic French violin sonatas suggest to you? Subtle colours, belle époque elegance, the ‘play of graceful, fleeting lines’ that Debussy said he heard in the music of Gabriel Fauré? Not here. Listen to the way that Nelson Goerner and the Albanian violinist Tedi Papavrami open Franck’s Violin Sonata. Hear the firmness of Papavrami’s tone and sense the way that Goerner’s lines quietly pull the music forwards with increasing momentum and weight. It feels like a symphonic prelude; and sure enough, when the second movement finally breaks, it’s positively volcanic: a headlong, keyboard-shaking, lower-string-buzzing onrush of passion. No wonder Proust felt that this music burned itself on to your soul.
These are huge performances, of enormous intensity and sweep, and in the heat of the moment it’s hard not to be carried away. Papavrami’s playing is what you might call old-school, in the best way – ardent and rich-toned in all registers, with generous vibrato and an effortlessly fluid way of draping itself over a phrase. Goerner responds with an almost improvisatory flexibility and imagination, delivering huge cascading handfuls of notes that can dissolve in an instant into limpid droplets of sound.
That makes for a particularly ardent Fauré First Sonata, concerto-like in brilliance and scope, in which even the most delicate moments – such as Goerner’s poetic accompaniment to the Andante – retain a sense of forward motion. True, it can feel relentless, and it has to be said that not everything on this disc sounds lovely (though moments are very lovely indeed). The ambiguities and half-lights of Fauré’s Second Sonata surely need more clarification than they receive in this hectic performance. Overall, you’ll either be intoxicated or appalled. It’s magnificent – but is it chamber music?