Jennifer Pike, an exclusive Chandos artist and one of the brightest up-and-coming stars on the musical scene today, named BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2002, performs some of the greatest music for the violin in the repertoire. On her first recital recording for Chandos, she partners the distinguished pianist Martin Roscoe, and together they superbly capture the Gaelic qualities of the violin sonatas by Franck, Debussy, and Ravel.
The Violin Sonata in A by César Franck was written in 1886 as a wedding present for the great violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Sensuous, yet spiritual and serene, this is a triumphant example of cyclic form in four movements: a languid Allegretto, a fiery Allegro, a Recitativo-Fantasia recalling earlier themes, and a gentle finale which is one of the finest examples of a canon written after Bach. The 1886 premiere took place in an art gallery in Brussels, in a room so dark that Ysaÿe was forced to play the sonata largely from memory.
The Violin Sonata was the third and last completed of a projected set of six sonatas for various instruments, on which Debussy embarked in 1915, three years before his death. Compared to the sonatas by Franck and Ravel, this work is very different in terms of the freedom and fantasy expressed in its ideas and structure. It may have been inspired in part by a gypsy fiddler whom Debussy heard on a visit to Budapest; indeed the violin writing in the central movement incorporates a number of ‘gypsy’ traits: trills, slides, and sudden bursts of excitement. This movement presents seventeen different tempo indications in a mere six pages, which highlights Debussy’s strong desire to write music that ‘sounds as if it’s not written down’.
Combining the influence of blues with an austere beauty, the Violin Sonata was Ravel’s final chamber work. In the late 1890s, the young Ravel had written one movement of a violin sonata, but it was not until the 1920s that he completed the work. He worked on the basic premise that the two instruments, violin and piano, being incompatible, should be made as independent from each other as possible, without risking the collapse of the structure. The deliberate lack of relationship between the instruments tested the ears of the critics, and when Ravel took the sonata on his North American tour in 1928, they did not approve – though the work was very well received by its audiences!