French Violin Sonatas - Fauré, Poulenc & Franck
Charismatic violinist Giovanni Guzzo makes his Champs Hill Records debut with an album of three well-loved sonatas, now very much in the mainstream of violin repertoire, but which arose from a turbulent period and a struggle for a national style in French and Belgian music.
Cesar Franck's Violin Sonata is, these days, in the repertoire of many great violinists, thanks to the Belgian virtuoso Eug'ne Ysa'e who was given it as a wedding present and premiered it in 1886. It is a superb synthesis of Franck's own uniquely rich harmonic language and thematic cyclicism and the Viennese Classical tradition that he came to hold so dear in the later stages of his career.
In Gabriel Fauré's much-loved sonata was too radical to the conservative-minded music publishers of Paris in 1876, and he had to go to a German publisher instead. Saint-Sa'ns expressed his enthusiasm for this work by his friend and pupil: "In this sonata you can find everything to tempt a gourmet: new forms, excellent modulations, unusual tone colours, and the use of unexpected rhythms. And a magic floats above everything, encompassing the whole work, causing the crowd of usual listeners to accept the unimagined audacity as something quite normal. With this work Monsieur Fauré takes his place amongst the masters."
Where Fauré found writing for the violin easy, Poulenc did not. He composed and destroyed two sonatas before completing this surviving sonata in 1942. 'The monster is now ready [The violin sonata] is not too bad, I believe, and in any case very different from the endless violin-melodic line sonatas written in France in the nineteenth century" he wrote.
Young violinist Giovanni Guzzo is rapidly rising as one of the leading performers of his generation. Born in Venezuela to parents of Italian and Venezuelan heritage. Described as a wonderfully 'Magnetic' and 'Commanding' performer.
He is the leader of the Manchester Camerata Orchestra and principal Guest leader of the Budapest Festival Orchestra .Giovanni plays on a 1709 Antonio Stradivarius Violin.
Normandy-born pianist and composer Anne Lovett has been praised for her crystalline and beautiful tonal clarity and huge sonic power (an unusual combination), plus absolute virtuosity and a rare musical intelligence, expressiveness and ability to communicate. She studied at the Conservatoire Superieur de Paris with Pierre Reach (a pupil of the great Artur Rubinstein) and Alberto Neuman (a rare student of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli) with further studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Hamish Milne.
- Sleeve Notes
Each of the sonatas on this recording arose naturally out of notions of national identity and pride. They also reflect the careful cultivation of a distinctive repertoire of French chamber music during a period marked by breakneck change and catastrophic conflicts. César Franck and Gabriel Fauré, both talented and influential teachers, played significant roles in nudging French chamber music out of the comfort of domestic parlours and privileged aristocratic salons into the mainstream of the international concert repertoire. The Belgian Franck and his Francophone followers absorbed important lessons from German music; Faur' and many fellow Gallic composers, meanwhile, sought to emulate in their work the refined tonal beauty, clarity and sophistication of contemporary French verse. The art of composition in France gained in depth and seriousness during the early decades of the Third Republic, in part in response to heavy French losses in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870'71, in part to advance the nation's position in the escalating fin-de-si'cle culture wars. While Poulenc openly mocked such high- minded gravit' in the works of his precocious youth, in later years he confronted serious questions about life's transience and paradoxes, not least those raised by the national humiliation that followed Nazi Germany's conquest and partition of France in 1940.
The conservative-minded music publishers of Paris unanimously rejected Gabriel Faur''s Violin Sonata in A major, no doubt unsettled by its then radical combination of classical and romantic elements and bold shifts between chromatic and modal harmonies. Camille Clerc, a wealthy industrialist and supporter of Faur''s cause, lobbied the venerable Leipzig firm of Breitkopf und H'rtel to accept the young composer's recently completed sonata. On 5 November 1876, he wrote to Faur' with good news: 'To sum up,' Clerc concluded, 'these people offer to publish the work at their expense on condition that they retain the copyright. I believe that from your point of view this result is a flattering one by their proposition, and it is obvious that your work has been appreciated by them.' The company's good opinion of the sonata was shared by the enthusiastic audience at its premiere, given on 27 January 1877 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris under the banner of the recently established Soci't' Nationale de Musique. It was performed by the popular young violinist Marie Tayau in partnership with Faur' at the piano.
Camille Saint-Sa'ns, Faur''s former teacher and close friend, praised the sonata for its 'formal novelty, quest, refinement and modulation, curious sonorities, use of the most unexpected rhythms and ... touches of boldness.' Those qualities register in the work's first movement and are powerfully reinforced in the Allegro vivo, charged with rhythmic energy and strikingly free in its patterning of phrase lengths and placement of metrical stresses. The expansive D minor slow movement, underpinned by a finely crafted and subtle accompaniment, alternates in mood between impassioned lyricism and serene melodic stillness. Faur''s deliberate departure throughout the work from the conventions of sonata form harmony, which troubled contemporary guardians of textbook rules, complements the enigmatic nature of its pithy themes and their inventive development.
Unlike Faur', who crafted eloquent and idiomatic music for violin, Francis Poulenc struggled to write for the solo instrument. He composed and destroyed two violin sonatas, one of which he performed with the violinist H'l'ne Jourdan-Morhange during the 1917'18 season, before creating his only surviving essay in the genre. 'To tell the truth,' he recalled, 'I don't like the violin in the singular. In the plural, it's quite different.' Poulenc finally overcame his resistance to the instrument in the summer of 1942 during a visit to his country retreat, a large yet rather austere villa at Noizay in the Loire valley. He drafted the Sonata for violin and piano after studying Brahms's violin sonatas; the model of Debussy's violin sonata, aphoristic in style, also informed Poulenc's approach to the combination of violin and piano.
'The monster is now ready,' he wrote to the anthropologist and ethnomusicologist Andr' Schaeffner. '[The violin sonata] is not too bad, I believe, and in any case very different from the endless violin-melodic line sonatas written in France in the nineteenth century. How beautiful Brahms's sonatas are! I did not know them very well. One cannot achieve a proper balance between two such instruments as the piano and the violin unless one treats them absolutely equally. The prima donna violin above an arpeggio piano accompaniment makes me vomit. Debussy, somewhat breathless in his [violin] sonata, has nevertheless succeeded in turning it into a masterpiece by sheer instrumental tact.' Poulenc's work was completed at Noizay on Easter Sunday 1943. The composer partnered Ginette Neveu in the sonata's public premiere, given at the Salle Gaveau in June 1943.
Poulenc tends to treat the piano as first among equals in his Violin Sonata; at least, the piano part often carries the main melodic interest while the violin interjects contrasts of colour and texture, notably so in the work's rhapsodic Intermezzo. Melancholy and high spirits, dark and light moods pass over the sonata's surface like clouds overhead. The composition's unsettling ambivalence soon surfaces in the first movement, present in the juxtaposition of a theme based on Tatyana's letter scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and a lighter, lyrical violin tune that could easily have been written for the Paris cabaret scene. Two states, equal in weight and opposite in character, govern the sonata's finale: the movement's boisterous opening has something of the circus about it; its second half, announced by a moment's silence and two ominous piano chords, mines the depths of introspection. Poulenc appears to invite listeners here to contemplate the particular tragedy of his work's dedicatee, the visionary poet Federico Garc'a Lorca, executed by nationalists soon after the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, while also reflecting on universal human suffering, a shared daily experience for millions living in Hitler's Europe.
In a series of interviews with the musicologist Claude Rostand, Poulenc explained that he found inspiration for the work in Garc'a Lorca's famous metaphor, 'The guitar makes dreams weep'. The line appears at the head of the Violin Sonata's Intermezzo, described by its composer in self-deprecating terms as 'a sort of vaguely Spanish Andante-cantilena'. Poulenc drafted the work's slow movement first. 'Then I imagined as a finale a Presto tragico whose lively rhythmic 'lan would suddenly be broken by a slow, tragic coda. A fiery first movement was to set the tone.' He proved to be its harshest critic, revising the score six years later after declaring the original to be 'an utter failure'. Poulenc's dismissive comment certainly did little to promote the considerable cause of a score tinged with bitter- sweet melodies and bound together with great ingenuity and imagination.
The American composer and author Ned Rorem, who first met Poulenc 'as a fan' in 1950, penned a vivid portrait of the man's defining ambivalence. 'In short,' noted Rorem, 'his aspect and personality, taste and music each contained contrasts that were not alternating but simultaneous. In a single spoken paragraph he would express terror about a work in progress, hence his need for a pilgrimage to the Black Virgin's Shrine at Rocamadour; his next breath extolled the joys of cruising the Deauville boardwalk [in search of casual homosexual sex]. This was no non sequitur but the statement of a whole man always interlocking soul and flesh, sacred and profane; the double awareness of artists and of their emulators, the saints.' For all the sharp-edged, contradictory contrasts present in Poulenc's Violin Sonata, the composer blurs the boundaries between sacred and profane in his work to show their interconnection.
C'sar Franck's Violin Sonata entered the mainstream of the violin repertoire soon after its acclaimed premiere at the Brussels Arts Club on 16 December 1886. The work's overnight popularity with performers and audiences was strongly influenced by the tempestuous character of its second movement and the dreamlike fantasy of its Recitativo-Fantasia. Those same attributes surely clashed with the conservative tastes and forceful opinions of the composer's wife and former pupil, F'licit' Desmousseaux, the daughter of well-known actors at the Com'die-Fran'aise in Paris. Although Madame Franck's views on the Violin Sonata were never made public, we do know that she wanted her husband to avoid the expression of strong emotions in his music. According to his biographer, L'on Vallas, 'Dissensions arose round about 1880, to become accentuated and even angry at times, for the wife adhered obstinately to [Franck's] early modes of expression, and was unable to keep pace with her husband's evolution.... If his music tickled her fancy she could not resist coming into the room to listen to it at a closer hearing; but if the Master poured out sounds that seemed to her too complex or bold she would throw open the dividing door and call to him: 'C'sar, I do not at all approve of that piece you are playing!''
Franck created his Violin Sonata as a wedding present for the violin virtuoso Eug'ne Ysay', who performed it in private soon after his marriage in the small town of Arlon in the Belgian province of Luxembourg on 26 September 1886 and later gave its public premiere in Brussels. The sonata's unrestrained lyricism, carefully wrought structure of 'cyclic' themes and elegant harmonies attracted critical praise, not least from the composer Vincent d'Indy, whose detailed analysis identified three melodic fragments upon which Franck constructed 'this true musical monument'. According to d'Indy, the simplest of these fragments, or cells, is present in the work's opening bars, loosely outlined by the piano and then announced hesitantly on the violin; he also analysed the thematic and rhythmic patterns that give unity to the sonata as a whole. However ingenious its formal plan, Franck's work is distinguished above all by its prevailing feeling of spontaneity and by the richness of its melodic invention and harmonic colour.
After the sonata's Paris premiere in 1887, one anonymous reviewer noted that the piece was 'modern in its formal design, and yet it retains the attractive qualities of the best of the classical sonatas,' a wise response to the work's complex character. After a subdued prelude, Franck introduces the fleet-footed substance of his charming first movement, far removed in style from the weight and heft of the conventional sonata opening. Violent energy and restless passion arise in the dramatic Allegro, which gives way to the work's rhapsodic Recitativo-Fantasia, deeply reflective in its fragmentary recollection of themes from the first two movements. The finale, which opens and closes with a simple canon between piano and violin, draws together themes heard earlier in the work.
- Press Reviews
"... insightful performances ... presented skilfully as intimate as they are radiant"
"Giovanni Guzzo and Anne Lovett find new heights of passion in the thrillingly ambiguous allegro con fuoco, and bring real pathos to the central movement's elegy for Federico Garcia Lorca."
- Stephen Pritchard, The Observer
"The violin sonatas of Fauré, Franck and Poulenc have an ideal interpreter in Giovanni Guzzo. The Venezuelan-born violinist plays with a pure, lustrous sound... Guzzo also has technique to burn..."
"Guzzo and Lovett are ideally matched in this music, which allows the violinist to indulge in his luxuriant, singing tone. Lovett accompanies with passionate exuberance and soulfulness."
- American Record Guide
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