YSAŸE Six Sonatas for Solo Violin
In her poetic booklet-notes, Frederieke Saeijs emphasises her affinity with Ysaÿe’s unaccompanied Violin Sonatas. ‘I grew up in The Hague, very near the popular bathing resort of Scheveningen. How well I can imagine the inspiration that must have visited Ysaÿe as he surveyed the surrounding dunes and breathed in the fresh wind of the North Sea.’ But however fine its motivations, this disc is badly timed: Saeijs contends with the formidable shadow of Alina Ibragimova, whose recording of these works, released last May, was widely hailed as a classic.
Comparisons between them do Saeijs few favours. Where she strikes us with her delicacy of tone, Ibragimova demonstrates how many more shades of quietness there are; and where Saeijs impresses us with her considerable aplomb, not least at the end of the Third Sonata, Ibragimova pins us to our seats with excitement. Saeijs, for the most part, opts for slower tempi and exaggerated articulation, which makes for a performance full of gravitas. It doesn’t, however, always convey the heady sense of momentum or capricious humour that seem to come so naturally to Ibragimova.
That aside, Saeijs’s is a memorable interpretation. She smoothly negotiates the works’ fiendish challenges without once compromising her lustrous tone. At the same time she is faithful to the spirit of Bach, which never lurks far from the music’s surface. Hers is a clean-cut take on the First Sonata’s fugue, offsetting its complexity; and a grace that pays dividends when the Second Sonata dips into Bach’s E major Partita.
What serves Saeijs best, though, is her breadth of imagination – a prerequisite given that each of these sonatas is dedicated to a different violinist. She clearly delights in the contrasts between characters: the refinement of Fritz Kreisler in No 4, for example, versus the Romanian-style colour representing George Enescu in No 3. And while the Sixth Sonata, with its Spanish inflections, could have done with a touch more flamboyance, it still stands out for its subtlety.