November 04, 2021


Eugène Ysaÿe: Scènes Sentimentales Nos. 3 and 5; Élégie; Trois Études-Poèmes; Petite fantaisie romantique; Violin Concerto in G minor. Sherban Lupu, violin; Henri Bonamy, piano; Liepāja Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann. Divine Art. $18.99.

Dan Dediu: Don Giovanni/Juan ‘SonatOpera’; Sonata for Solo Violin; À la recherche de la Marseillaise de Stravinsky; A Mythological Bestiary. Irina Muresanu, violin; Valentina Sandu-Dediu, piano. Métier. $18.99.

     The rediscovery of fine, unfairly neglected works of past times is an ongoing pleasure in classical music today, with more and more artists performing works that go beyond the mainstream ones for which composers are known – and with new findings occurring with considerable regularity. To be sure, much re-found music and many re-found composers turn out to be justifiably obscure; but it is nevertheless remarkable how many really fine pieces of music have slipped through the cracks of history, providing opportunities for today’s performers to explore unfamiliar repertoire that certainly deserves a better fate than it has had to date. A new Divine Art CD featuring Sherban Lupu playing music by Eugène Ysaÿe is a fine example of works whose near-total obscurity is difficult to understand. Only the brief, charming and unprepossessing Petite fantaisie romantique of 1901 has been recorded before – everything else here is a world première recording, and the G minor Violin Concerto of 1910 was wholly unknown until Lupu helped reconstruct it and Sabin Pautza orchestrated it as recently as 2017. The concerto, in a single very extended movement, is the major work on this disc, and it is a real find. Unexpectedly, given Ysaÿe’s virtuoso reputation, the concerto begins with a two in-depth minutes of orchestral exposition before the violin even enters. And when the soloist does appear, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a virtuoso vehicle but a complex, forward-looking-for-its-time study in interactivity between solo and ensemble. Since Ysaÿe did not orchestrate the work, it is impossible to know to what extent the actual sound of the concerto is what the composer intended – but the harmonic elements and instrumental interplay, which often sound like a mixture of Richard Strauss and Ravel, show that Ysaÿe was looking well beyond the Romantic era while clearly incorporating the musical richness and emotional intensity of that time period. Lupu plays the concerto with real panache, and Paul Mann provides sure-handed support – just as pianist Henri Bonamy does for the remainder of the pieces heard here. The Scènes Sentimentales date to 1885, when Ysaÿe was 27, and were designed as showcases for the composer’s performance techniques. They are effective in that respect, if not musically very memorable. The first two of the Trois Études-Poèmes (1924), the latest music here, are also primarily technical showpieces, but the third and by far the longest, called Cara memoria, is a fully developed work with elements of tone poem and sonata movement – written with less of a “modern” harmonic approach than the first two pieces, but far more effectively constructed. And the Élégie of 1912, which is the same length as the Petite fantaisie romantique, is less of a salon piece than the earlier work and more of a study in Impressionism, albeit only in a general sense. This CD is a remarkably engaging exploration of some byways of the violin’s past, and it points quite clearly to the many fine works that Ysaÿe wrote for his instrument beyond the six famous solo violin sonatas of the 1920s.

     Some explorations of the past are spearheaded by composers rather than musical scholars or performers, and may be done quite overtly and for reasons of a composer’s own. That is the case with the music of Romanian composer Dan Dediu (born 1967) on a new Métier CD. While Ysaÿe may echo Richard Strauss here and there, Dediu explicitly builds a major work around a combination of Strauss’ Don Juan and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, calling the result, which dates to 1995, a “SonatOpera.” In truth, the result is as awkward as the work’s title: filled with screechy high notes, harmonics and stop-and-start pacing, it goes on and on (for more than 20 minutes) without in any sense paying tribute to either earlier composer’s music or, indeed, making it clear what Dediu sees (or hears) in his source material. Written for Irina Muresanu and Valentina Sandu-Dediu, the piece is played by them with enthusiasm and a high level of involvement, but it is very difficult to imagine non-performing listeners becoming involved in the music to anything like the same extent – Dediu’s work will more likely send the audience back to Strauss and Mozart with a sigh of relief (or two). A more-interesting work that was also composed for Muresanu and Sandu-Dediu is A Mythological Bestiary (2008), whose six movements are filled with the same repetitive and overdone techniques heard in the “SonatOpera” but whose elements are varied enough to encourage listeners to play an intellectual game of “how do those notes and instrumental combinations reflect that specific beast?” Thus, Griffin is piquant, Unicorn relaxed, Mandragora disconnected, Sphynx almost lithe, Hippogriffin oddly delicate (perhaps because its rear was that of a horse, while the griffin’s was that of a lion), and Dragon suitably slithery if not exactly fiery. The two extended violin-and-piano works on this (+++) disc are complemented by two pieces for violin solo. The two-movement sonata of 1987 has a thinness and bite that makes an interesting contrast with the works of Ysaÿe and other composers of earlier in the 20th century: the second movement, Andante rubato, is another place where Dediu shows his fondness for stop-and-start pacing rather than anything approaching lyricism. As for looking back toward earlier composers, Dediu does so quite explicitly not only in the “SonatOpera” but also in À la recherche de la Marseillaise de Stravinsky (2008), which is impressive in its technical demands – all of which Muresanu handles without apparent difficulty – but which includes none of the rhythmic, harmonic or evocative creativity that makes so much of Stravinsky’s music attractive. Dediu’s works on this CD are limited in their appeal, being well-constructed and performed with a high level of skill, but lacking most of the particular attractions on which earlier composers, including the ones whose pieces are of interest to Dediu, relied to much better effect.

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