French Sonatas for Violin & Piano.
French Sonatas for Violin & Piano. Lin He; Gregory Sioles. Centaur CRC 3009, 2009.
On this album, violinist Lin He and pianist Gregory Sioles play three chamber works that mark the end of the romantic era and the unsettled beginning of the twentieth century. The first two sonatas are by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, the third by Francis Poulenc. Debussy's looks backward, past the classical era w the baroque, while Ravel's seems to dwell with apprehension on the artistic and human crises that were already' becoming visible on the horizon, even as it embraces classical tradition in structurally explicit ways. The Poulenc piece is perhaps the most startling: the composer's usual puckish humor is nowhere in evidence here, replaced by a simmering anger at the war (the piece was completed in 1943 and revised in 1949) and the plight of its victims, particularly of its dedicatee, the writer and victim of Spanish fascism Federico Garcia Lorca. One of the most affecting pieces on this album is one of two miniatures, a three-and-a-half minute nocturne by Lili Boulanger (the other miniature is something of an oddity, an arrangement for violin and piano by Arthur Hartmann of Debussy's piano setting of the folksong "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair"). The Boulanger piece seems to distill the essence of gentle longing, and is played with particular sensitivity by He. The recorded sound is warm but rather dry, which works quite well for all three pieces, all of which are quite emotional enough without lashings of reverberation to heighten the mood; the Debussy sonata's unsettled harmonic progression is particularly well served by both the woody tone of Lin He's violin and the room's dry acoustic. Lin He plays with a bracingly exciting blend of bravura technique and hardheaded restraint, while Sioles exhibits the finest characteristics of an accompanist: glittering virtuosity bridled by exquisite taste. Pay attention to him and you will he impressed by his brilliance; listen to the piece more holistically and you will rarely notice him. Together, He and Sioles have created an album of uncommon beauty.