Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Violin Sonata in G (1891) [31:41]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A (1886) [27:29]
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Nocturne (1911) [3:12]
Frédéric Bednarz (violin)
Natsuki Hiratsuka (piano)
rec. February 2015, Music Multimedia Room, McGill University, Montreal
METIS ISLANDS MIM-0006 [62:01]

The Lekeu-Franck conjunction is not a rarity on disc and makes much programmatic sense. The sonatas were both written within a seven year period for the same immense figure, Eugène Ysaÿe. Thus Frédéric Bednarz and Natsuki Hiratsuka have sizeable competition in this repertoire, not least because the Lekeu has become something of a niche favourite on disc over the last decade or so.

It’s the performance of this work that determines the success, or otherwise, of this disc, given the near-ubiquity of the Franck. Here I do feel a slightly over-perfumed, quasi-period style has permeated Bednarz’s thoughtfully sensitive performance. There’s something a touch too artful and phrasally stiff about the portamentos – repeated virtually identically when the same material returns – that suggests a degree of predictability and artificiality. If you can absorb this aspect then you will find this a nicely-scaled reading that never wallows and takes good tempi. For myself there is something about the swellings and timbral colour-changes in the slow movement that suggest to me that the performers lack stylistic ease with the music. The finale is the best played movement, full of confident brio. But for recordings much more strongly attuned to the music’s rhetoric a listen to Grumiaux or Dumay will show what’s missing here.

The Franck gets the better performance, its universality admitting a greater range of approaches. Still whilst I appreciate the expressive portamentos – all part of the emotive depth of this work, though an aspect too often ignored by scrupulously ‘clean’ players – the passagework can sound a little pedestrian at times. It’s a performance that sounds a little under-projected. This work is more cruel for the pianist than the violinist and Hiratsuka acquits herself well. The little envoi is Lili Boulanger’s melancholic Nocturne, always a good choice. It takes the CD length to 62 minutes.

The recorded sound at McGill University is not especially warm, though it’s certainly not redolent of Parisian studios of old which were sometimes almost acidic. There are very brief notes in the card gatefold and much more about the artists than the music.

Jonathan Woolf