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Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Six Sonatas for Solo Violin Op.27 [75:00]
Stefan Tarara (violin)
rec. Immanuelskirche, Wupperthal, Germany, 2017
Reviewed in surround
ARS PRODUKTION ARS38241 SACD [75:00]

This set of six solo violin sonatas occupies a unique place in the virtuoso violin repertoire, being the only set by a virtuoso violinist dedicated entirely to his fellow virtuoso violinists. The extensive notes are informative but have a strong thread of marketing hype for the soloist. In a sense these pieces demand hype: the composer claimed, according to Wikipedia, that the performer, "must be a violinist, a thinker, a poet, a human being, he must have known hope, love, passion and despair, he must have run the gamut of the emotions in order to express them all in his playing." Stefan Tarara is undoubtedly a very able violinist and who know what he might have experienced. At least he has a 1721 Stradivarius to play which apparently sports "gold-wound gut strings." His engineers have given him a splendidly spacious recording which has been transferred to disc at quite a high level necessitating a lowering of the expected playback volume. So A+ for all aspects of the disc and performance.

Ysa˙e dedicated these six works to Szigeti, Thibaud, Enescu, Kreisler, Crickboom and Quiroga, all foremost virtuosi of the early 20th century. Each sonata includes musical and technical characteristics directed at its dedicatee. Technically he uses all the latest techniques and expressive means, along with the most modern compositional characteristics of 1923, the year he composed them all. These include whole tone scales, dissonances and quarter tones. They certainly engage the listener throughout their length. Unlike the fairly short Paganini Caprices, these come in at between 8 and 18 minutes long and four of the six have several movements. The music does vary in drama, lyricism and simply in volume: some passages are extremely quiet. Thus there is musical meat for home listening, but not all at once! Just how much such explicitly virtuoso outpourings can involve the emotions I am not sure. I found myself being less moved than I was impressed by the shear cleverness of both composer and player.

As one might expect, a huge number of violinists have recorded these pieces. Tarara is not even alone in having the entire set on SACD. The chances are one of your favourite violinists has made a disc. As non-partisan commentators say, "other soloists are available." It is worth adding at least one performance to one's collection and this might well fit the bill.

Dave Billinge




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