Retrospective: French Sonatas
Seemingly overlooked on its initial release on the Quartz label, this engaging recital was recorded in the Champs Hill Music Room as long ago as 1999, when pianist Jeremy Denk was in his late teens and violinist-composer Ittai Shapira in his early twenties. Quirkily programmed, it asks us to reconsider Delius’s infrequently heard B major Sonata, written in Paris in 1892, as an essentially French work by placing it alongside familiar sonatas by Franck and Ravel. The juxtaposition is far from successful, however, since the lyrical effusion of the opening movement brings Strauss to mind, while the Andante and finale owe much to Grieg. The performance itself, however, impresses with its sweep and poise. Shapira balances weight with refinement throughout. Denk is by turns forthright and wonderfully limpid. It’s most beautifully done.
Their account of the Franck Sonata, reflective and unmannered, is persuasive, too. Some, I suspect, might prefer more dramatic fire in the inner movements, where Shapira and Denk are fractionally too reined in. But the structural logic and counterpoint are cleanly and clearly presented, the opening movement combines grace with tension and there’s a real sense of quiet contentment in the finale. The Ravel, meanwhile, is a treat. Shapira and Denk have terrific fun in the central ‘Blues’, with its pizzicato twangs and sleazy piano figurations, while the ironies and emotional ambiguities of the outer movements are explored with a subtlety and understated dexterity that prove utterly beguiling. It’s a very fine interpretation indeed.