Mstation Classical Reviews

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Sun, 29 Jan 2006

Grieg, Franck

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No 3 in c minor Op45  [21.36]
Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904)
Violin Sonatina in G major, B183 (Op100)  [18.21]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major  [27.27]
Kai Gleusteen - Violin; Catherine Ordronneau - Piano
rec June 2003, CREAR, Argyll, Scotland.

There is something terribly trendy going on up in Argyll, but we'll do our best to ignore it and concentrate on the music. This disc from CREAR classics seems as much to be promoting the recording venue - a combination of studio and artist's retreat - overlooking the Isle of Jura on the west coast of Scotland. It does sound lovely from the extensive notes about the place in the booklet, but what the sculptures of Marko Kratohvil have to do with it is hard to grasp from the CD. His steel thing called "Interaction 1/04" is all over the CD booklet and he gets a bigger write-up, with large photo than the performers, which is odd, because you can't hear his sculpture anywhere, but that's sculpture for you.

Kai Gleusteen and Catherine Ordronneau, he Canadian, she French, perform a programme of three of the best pieces in the repertoire for Violin and Piano. The tempestuous opening of the Grieg totally belies his usual reputation as a gentle melodist, summed up by Debussy's dismissive comment about his music - "a pink bonbon, filled with snow" and the slow movement brings some ravishing sonorities to the fore. The finale is another large-scale movement in which both performers are required to bring not only virtuosity, but considerable power to bear. This is amongst the best of Grieg's chamber music and the performance is impressive, to say the least.

The Dvorak sonatina is also a well-known work and of a scale that belies the diminutive of its title. Gleusteen is in particularly fine form here, producing a sweet sound throughout, yet never having any problems in balance with the piano. Taking the photo of the performers on the back of the booklet as a guide the piano appears to be smaller than the conventional nine foot grand, although the notes do not mention what it is. It appears to be about a 6'6" grand; more a domestic than a concert sized instrument, but for recording purposes there is wisdom in this. The greater size required to carry the sound to the back of a concert hall is not a concern in the studio, and the possibilities of flexibility in balance in chamber music are greatly enhanced by a smaller piano.

Of course, the work that is always going to be the benchmark in any programme like this is the Franck - almost universally acclaimed as the greatest 19th century sonata for this combination of instruments. Interestingly, Franck styled it not as a sonata for violin and piano, as would be the norm for the period, but a sonata for piano and violin although the more common appellation is the one that appears here. The important thing is the balance of the roles within the duo, the piano is no mere accompanist here; witness the surging opening piano figures of the second movement (Allegro) not to mention the fact that it is the piano that also starts all the other movements. The violin is not subservient either, and Gleusteen's forward tone and languorous phrasing do not cast him in such a role. However, in this work it is the piano playing of Catherine Ordronneau that really shines. There is tremendous latent power in her left hand, but this is held exquisitely under control at all times. This is a first rate recording of first-rate performances by serious, but not heavy, musicians. There are many recordings of the Franck available, but the pairings here, both classics of the genre just as much as the Franck, are the stuff of programming that will last the test of time. The performances also are versions that this writer will be happy to hear, and has been happy to hear, repeatedly.

(c) 2006 Peter Wells

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