The Japanese violinist Akiko Suwanai studied with Toshiya Eto at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, and later with Dorothy DeLay and Cho-Liang Lin at the Juilliard. With several prestigious prizes to her name, her outstanding achievement was as the youngest winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990. Since then she has amassed an impressive discography. For her latest offering she has chosen two sonatas, often paired. Her collaborator on this occasion is the Italian pianist Enrico Pace.
Suwanai and Pace’s Strauss Sonata reflects the youthful exuberance that not only permeates this work but also the tone poem Don Juan, penned around the same time. They take a broad and spacious view of the opening Allegro, where passion and lyricism are meted out in equal measure. The slow movement is tender and heartfelt and lovingly phrased. In the middle section the violin weaves a magical line over the piano’s diaphanous and luminous cascading waves. The players bring this off stunningly. Fervid passion informs the finale, the duo’s incandescent performance setting the seal on a convincing and assured interpretation.
I’m very happy to make a first acquaintance with the deliciously evocative Takemitsu work, from 1966. Hika means ‘elegy’ in Japanese and, as its title suggests, the mood is sombre, sorrowful and reflective. Set in a 12-tone idiom, both instrumental parts are deftly and imaginatively etched. There’s an unaccompanied section for violin about half-way through, calling for harmonics, tremolos and double-stops, all delivered with consummate polish and flawless intonation. Enrico Pace’s sensitive pedalling brings a wealth of colour and allure to the piano part. This short piece sits well between the two sonatas.
Franck’s ubiquitous Sonata is contemporaneous with the Strauss, with an old age perspective replacing youth. It was composed in 1886 as a wedding present for the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe. This performance certainly highlights the work's effusive lyricism. I’m particularly won over by the exquisite rendering of the Recitativo third movement, which feels like the work’s emotional heart. It sounds improvisatory, with an instinctive sense of line. The finale, which follows, is intensely passionate and intense. As a performance it stands up well in a well-served arena, where there are many fine recordings to be had, one of my favourites being the Kaja Danczowska/Krystian Zimerman collaboration on DG.
Warmly recorded, with excellent balance struck between the two players, the Paroisse Notre-Dame du Liban à Paris provides a sympathetic and intimate ambience. (Stephen Greenbank)