FRANCK; POULENC; SAINT-SAËNS Violin Sonatas
‘Frankly no good’: Poulenc’s verdict on his only Violin Sonata was damning, but there’s no reason why we have to accept it. Written during the Second World War and dedicated to the memory of Lorca, it’s actually a work of considerable originality, in which the darkness of its subject (and perhaps Poulenc’s own dislike of the medium) constantly challenges and undercuts the composer’s instinctive craftsmanship and wit. Its ambiguities grow more fascinating with repeated hearings.
So it’s good to find it here: a more imaginative coupling for the Franck Sonata than the usual Fauré. In fact, it’s the highlight of the disc. The American-based Carlock-Combet duo has all the qualities necessary for this repertoire: Combet’s violin tone is rich and fluid, and Sandra Carlock commands a generous palette of keyboard colours, while Somm’s recording captures the piano sound, in particular, with realism and warmth. Their reading of the Poulenc is swift, volatile and ardent, with just enough of an edge of harshness in Combet’s playing to capture the work’s latent anger. The pair generate a powerfully sinister atmosphere in the outer sections of the central Intermezzo.
Saint-Saëns’s First Sonata rounds off the disc, and this dramatic performance is a useful corrective for anyone who still thinks of this composer as the epitome of bland Gallic polish – the moto perpetuo opening of the finale positively crackles with energy. If only the same could be said for the pair’s languorous, at times almost static performance of the Franck. Momentum drains from the inner movements, and that ravishing finale feels laboured. It’s listenable enough but the other performances on this disc suggest that it could have been a great deal more.