Friday, 30 August 2013

Ysaÿe - Murray, and Barati

The six sonatas for solo violin written by Eugène Ysaÿe nearly a hundred years ago are popular with violinists and with lovers of violin playing – much as the semi-contemporaneous pieces by Alexander Scriabin are popular with pianists. The music of both composers is probably less popular with audiences; although Ysaÿe was born in 1858, his six solo sonatas breathe a somewhat modernistic air, and extended works for a solo violin can become monotonous, unless the violinist has a full quiver of sophisticated sonic arrows.

I do not usually do head-to-head comparisons of different artists, but having the six Ysaÿe sonatas played by Kristof Barati and by Tai Murray out for listening, I decided to listen to each sonata twice, played alternately by the two artists. It was an interesting experience, and brought to mind the now-ancient rivalry between fans of the Sibelius violin concerto with Jascha Heifetz (1935) and Ginette Neveu (1945). Both Heifetz and Neveu gave great performances, albeit of a very different character, and this came to my mind listening to Barati and to Murray. Barati is Hungarian and Murray American; both, on their respective CDs, prove to be technically completely competent in these difficult sonatas that contain many chords and many passages in double stopping. Barati is the Heifetz in this instance, with slightly faster tempi than Murray and with an overall elegance that holds the attention. He has superb double stops, an excellent range of dynamics and a myriad of different colours in his palette, holding my attention fully through each sonata.

I did not think Murray would be able to compete with this: but she does. Equally impressive dynamics, and an equally rich palette of colours. She is the Neveu of the two, bringing a sense of affection and passion to what she is playing – one suspects the sonatas are even closer to her heart than they are to the heart of Barati.

Which interpretation will I keep, alongside a few others, including the excellent Thomas Zehetmair? As so often in these cases, I'll keep Heifetz and Neveu in the Sibelius; and Barati and Murray in the Ysaÿe sonatas. Both the newcomers are well recorded -- no easy task with a solo violin -- though perhaps Murray is a shade too close to the microphone. Both violins sound fine, though Barati's 1703 Strad sounds a whisker better in the higher reaches than does Murray's 1690 Tononi. Kristof Barati sounds more masculine; Tai Murray sounds more feminine, and you never lose track of which one you are listening to. We live in great times for lovers of fine violin playing.

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