Monday 30 June 2014

Canadian violinist, Karl Stobbe gives exceptionally fine performances of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas, op.27 for solo violin, that combine virtuosity with poetry on a new release from Avie Records

The Belgian violinist, composer and conductor, Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), was renowned as the finest violinist of his time. His compositions, such as his Six Sonatas for solo violin, are often viewed solely for their virtuosic qualities, though it is often overlooked that he did write a broader range of works such as orchestral works, chamber works and even an opera. Indeed, his own playing is remembered as much for its virtuosic skill as for its poetry.

His Six Sonatas, op.27 for solo violin certainly do contain much that is extremely virtuosic but there is often a deeper quality to them, something which is brought out by the Canadian violinist, Karl Stobbe , on a new recording of these works from Avie Records

Written in 1923, these sonatas are each dedicated to a famous violinist, Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973), Jacques Thibaud (1880-1953), George Enescu (1881-1955), Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), fellow Belgian, Mathieu Crickboom (1871-1947) and Manuel Quiroga (1892-1961).

In four movements, Sonata No.1 in G minor ‘for Joseph Szigeti’ opens with Grave where, despite the brilliant violinistic display of the opening, this performance expertly balances the poetic with the virtuosic. The Fugato develops some terrific layers of contrapuntal sound before the Allegretto poco scherzoso where Karl Stobbe weaves the many strands of musical invention with lovely phrasing, fine clarity and much feeling, providing some lovely colours from his instrument. Stobbe throws himself straight into the Finale: Con brio, keeping up the pressure throughout in playing of tremendous virtuosity.

In the first of the four movements of the Sonata No.2 in A minor ‘for Jacques Thibaud’, Obsession: Prelude, who will not recognise the Bach quotations combined with equally well known Dies Irae plainchant theme, skilfully woven by Ysaÿe and equally skilfully played by Stobbe. Again Stobbe’s fine playing and clarity of texture brings many rewards. The dark Malinconia sees Stobbe revealing the intense emotions of this movement and, in juxtaposition with the first movement, revealing an emotional instability overall. The Dies Irae appears again at the end. It is the Dies Irae that is worked over in the third movement, Danse des Ombres: Sarabande., a set of variations on the plainchant, surely something of a wonder with its combination of violin technique and emotional power shown to perfection here and broadening beautifully at the end. There is virtuosity galore in the finale, Les Furies, with the Dies Irae again seen appearing in many guises, using many violinistic techniques, superbly played by Stobbe.

The single movement, Ballade: Lento molto sostenuto – Allegro in tempo giusto e con bravura, of the Sonata No.3 in D minor ‘for George Enescu’ opens slowly before building in complexity and virtuosity. Here Stobbe not only sails over the difficulties with apparent ease, he provides so many varieties of tone that add so much, making this much more than a mere showpiece.  Stobbe’s quieter passages are full of intimate detail. But what a showpiece it is nevertheless.

There are three movements to the Sonata No.4 in E minor ‘for Fritz Kreisler’.

Allemanda has a flamboyant opening that soon leads on to the main Allamanda theme with Stobbe bringing much fine technique. He weaves a lovely poetic, gentler middle section before allowing the music to unfold beautifully in the later stages. Continuing the dance theme the second movement is a Sarabande that opens with the theme picked out pizzicato before gently developing in a lovely, melancholy melody. There is a fine sweep and breadth from Stobbe in the opening of the Finale before the music rushes forward, furiously, but with so much fine clarity. The middle section is beautifully phrased before a terrific final section.

Sonata No.5 in G major ‘for Mathieu Crickboom’ has two movements. In L’Aurore there are some lovely dissonant harmonies in the slow opening, brought out so finely by this violinist. Stobbe’s view that this sonata is very French is absolutely right, particularly in the way that he conjures up so many French colourings and textures.

Danse rustique is a terrific dance movement made all the more difficult by all the layers of the music. There is a rather quixotic middle section before a runaway ending in this really fine performance.

The single, Allegro giusto non troppo vivo movement of the Sonata No.6 in E major ‘for Manuel Quiroga’ is full of Iberian warmth and flamboyance with Stobbe bringing a lovely feeling of improvisation to the little flourishes and details. Virtuosity sits side by side with Spanish rhythms making this a fine end to these sonatas.

To take all six of these sonatas into the concert hall, as Stobbe has done, is a considerable achievement and challenge and a strong foundation on which to take these works into the studio. These are exceptionally fine performances that combine virtuosity with moments of great poetry.

The recording from St John’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is rather close but extremely detailed. There are informative notes by Karl Stobbe.

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