PIERNÉ; SAINT-SAËNS; DEBUSSY Violin Sonatas
In search of la petite phrase: what Francophile wouldn’t be fascinated by a recital devoted to the various real-life works that might have been the model for the violin sonata by the fictional composer Vinteuil in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu? It’s an enchanting idea, and it’s only surprising that more duos haven’t taken advantage of it prior to this debut disc by the sisters Maria and Nathalia Milstein.
It doesn’t quite do what it says on the tin. Franck’s Sonata (a prime candidate) is missing, and Debussy’s late Sonata – a work with more tenuous Proustian connections – closes the disc. We do, however, get Gabriel Pierné’s much less familiar Sonata, Op 36, and it’s exquisite: very much in the tradition of Saint-Saëns’s First Sonata, the disc’s centrepiece, and played by the pair with gleaming panache coupled to an affecting inwardness.
These are appealing qualities, and they characterise the whole disc. Maria, on violin, can bring the requisite brilliance when required (the sweep up to the end of the first movement of the Pierné is magnificent), but her sound in quieter passages has a tremulous, almost vocal quality. And although Nathalia, on piano, has a luminous tone and gives a clearly defined character to her rhythms, there’s an intimacy – an instinctive ebb and flow – about the pair’s interplay that makes everything here feel like real chamber music.
They charge Debussy’s central Intermède with an intense theatricality, changing tone-colour by the phrase and almost by the note. But they handle the long lines of the Saint-Saëns with equal assurance, and play two Reynaldo Hahn song transcriptions with unaffected sweetness. A disc with which you might well fall in love.