FRANCK; STRAUSS Violin Sonatas
Occupying the central place in the canon of Romantic violin repertoire as it does, Franck’s Violin Sonata is programmed in countless ways in its countless appearances on disc. So it is refreshing, therefore, that this disc places the Franck alongside Strauss’s Violin Sonata, and in doing so deals more plainly with the listener, presenting together two of the greatest violin works of the period in all their infinitely similar variety.
The root of each is romantic with a small ‘r’ as well as a capital – the Franck famously written as a wedding present for Ysaÿe; the Strauss in the period he met and fell passionately in love with his wife, Pauline de Ahna – and they both use the deceptively simple technique of a single musical idea that evolves over the course of the whole sonata. The latter is a particularly difficult musical approach to master artistically, and it is one of the most appealing elements of this disc’s performance that James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong make a kaleidoscope of both sonatas that reflects their almost indistinguishable elements and which, in turn, honours the profoundly romantic nature of both works (which is presented equally well in the smaller-scale arrangements of four of Strauss’s Lieder).
There is a soulfulness behind the technical perfection of Ehnes’s playing that truly supports each work from their parallel tentative openings, through the emotional quagmire of their middle sections to their purgative closing sections. There is rarely adequate justification for a new recording of either sonata in such an overstuffed catalogue but the unqualified musicianship and transcendent phrasing certainly offer one here.