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Robert Maxham
Fanfare, July 2010

The first movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata (and, perhaps, the sonata in general) seems to send the violin and piano on their separate ways, solving the problem of their compatibility by a method akin to that of cutting the Gordian knot. Joseph Szigeti made the most of this quizzical relationship, deploying a tone that, if not pleasant, at least sounded hauntingly protean. In the first movement, Frederieke Saeijs creates a similar wealth of timbral detail that, by playing it straight, violinists like Grumiaux missed. If she doesn’t sound edgy in the tremolo passages, she’s generally as skilled in finding an appropriate shading for each passage, and pianist van Bueren shares her ear for tonal nuance. The blues movement in her reading seems down and dirty enough, even if the slides appear at times more fussy than seductive. The 1727 Pietro Guarneri (of Venice) seems to possess all the tonal resources she requires in the sonorously dissonant climax. Her opening gesture in the perpetual-motion finale seems to presage a more delicate performance than she gives the movement, which sounds athletic and energetic; when the violin and piano come together, as they do at the ends of the finale and the first movement, she and van Bueren deliver irresistible perorations. The duo sounds more atmospheric than did Dong-Suk Kang and Pascal Devoyon on Naxos’s 1989 recording of the sonata (8.550276), which I’ve always enthusiastically recommended.

Saeijs and van Bueren adopt a much darker manner in the first movement of Respighi’s sonata, with van Bueren warming to its large-scale romantic gestures and Saeijs producing a somewhat slender tonal counterpart…That’s not to say that she can’t—or, in fact, doesn’t—rise to the movement’s grandiloquent statements. Heifetz also recorded this sonata (with Emanuel Bay in 1950), and her ear for subtle inflection may remind listeners of his, though she lacks his almost continuous laser-like focus. Much of the interest in the movement arises from her ongoing dialogue with van Bueren, as congenial here as it may have been antagonistic (appropriately so) in Ravel’s sonata. Van Bueren displays in the opening of the second movement an affecting expressive range; once again, the dialogue between the two players seems now gently intimate, now rapt, and, at times, nearly ecstatic. The Passacaglia requires from the duo great musical and tonal strength, two attributes that marked Heifetz’s playing in general. But Saeijs, if she doesn’t match him, calls upon reserves of power in its most declamatory moments that makes her reading both credible and creditable; van Bueren thunders with titanic energy in the final pages.

Granados’s sonata, the program’s least familiar work, came to light, according to Caroline Waight’s notes, in 1971. In its brief duration (under 12 minutes), the sonata, dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, explores what may seem to many listeners, after Ravel’s and Respighi’s sonatas, less mountainous terrain, though it demands delicate sensitivity to its style. Just as the players penetrated the respective manners of Ravel and Respighi, the duo also seems to attune itself quickly to Granados’s idiom, with its recurring arabesques and gutty declamations on the G string (which may remind violin aficionados of Thibaud).

The engineers balanced the violin and piano during the sessions from September 11–13, 2006, in the Rabobank Zaal of the Muziekcentrum Frits Philips in Einhoven, sparing listeners undue reverberation without loss of warmth. Urgently recommended for their stylistic penetration and general musical insight, as well as for their tonal attractiveness and technical security, the performances should appeal to all kinds of listeners.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, May 2010

The Ravel sonata is a vehicle for the Saeijs-van Bueren duo’s rather classicist credentials in which the ensemble is solid and impressive, and the emotive gestures kept within the kind of established boundaries expected of such an approach. So, for instance, Frederieke Saeijs’s vibrato is nicely paced but not especially fast nor indeed wide. It’s a rather aristocratic approach, one that makes even Grumiaux sound fervid. Whereas it’s becomes a bit of a thing to camp up the Blues movement, here instead we find discreet dynamics, a degree of reserve, and glissandi that do their work without becoming engorged. So too the pizzicati, which ricochet without being bent into shapes of post-Bop origami. The attitude here, whilst not without its dramatic element, is more one of a ghostly nocturnal, at least until the banjo impressions kick in.

The Respighi sonata is getting its due on disc these days. We no longer have to look back nostalgically to the days of Heifetz and Shumsky. The sonata’s romanticist credentials are neatly demarcated via some telling portamenti, and by the piano’s rolling authority. Saeijs reserves her greatest tonal and timbral weight for this sonata, drawing on a greater range of tone colours when necessary and greater bowing weight too, quite rightly. Playing the tempestuous central passages of the slow movement with controlled passion is not a given in performances of this work but that’s how it’s done here. One respects the tempo at which they take the Passacaglia finale and it’s the kind of tempo that quite a few duos take, but I’ve always felt that a more determinist policy pays greater dividends and the kind of tempo adopted by Heifetz, or by Josef Suk drives the movement forward with inexorable drama. Still, this new duo has the virtue of consistency.

The Granados sonata is something of an anomaly, a brief one movement work written (date yet to be determined) for Jacques Thibaud. It was first published in 1971. This again suits Saeijs by virtue of its purity of line and elegance, and without any obviously sinuous Iberian rhythms to propel, the executants are more reliant on exploring its songful, quasi-improvised lyricism.

For those who want a measured, refined purview of these works this well recorded disc will fit the bill nicely.

Peter Marchbank
International Record Review, March 2010

This is a remarkable piece of music that deserves to be better known and is played here by two virtuoso young performers.

Saeijs and van Bueren…are an exciting partnership and one I shall look forward to hearing more of. © 2010 International Record Review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

Taking all of the major awards in the 2005 Long-Thibaud International Violin Competition launched Frederieke Saejis onto the international stage. Here she plays three of the sonatas composed in the first quarter of the 20th century—if we have correctly guessed the original date of the Granados score—though they were written in very contrasting styles. Ravel had embraced the modern era, jazz shaping his second movement in the style of a sexy Blues, the violin squeezing out those seductive slides and pizzicato passages that are saucy in their rhythmic layout. By complete contrast Respighi was looking back to the last years of Romanticism with Richard Strauss as its starting point. If Ravel was all about the instrument’s silvery tone, Respighi requires weight for his impassioned climatic moments, the bittersweet slow movement leading to a Passacaglia of Germanic intensity. It is the pianist who is mostly presented with the task of generating that weight, here readily taken up by Maurice Lammerts van Bueren. It was Jacques Thibaud—the famous violinist who gave his name to the Paris competition—who inspired the Granados sonata, and though he took it into his repertoire, it remained unpublished until 1971. In one short movement, the thematic music evolved into an eclectic rhapsody that I would never have expected from the composer. Saeijs’s magnificent Guarnerius provides the robust quality on which the Respighi thrives, and I have equally enjoyed her Granados where van Bueren’s accompaniment dances around her melodic line with considerable joy. They take a very classical view of the Ravel, looking at the subtle rather than the primary colours, and offer a new slant on the usual outgoing virtuosity. The recording quality is excellent.

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