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Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, June 2012

The first violin sonata…comes from [Honegger’s] twentieth year but exhibits a poise and mastery that many an older composer would envy. The harmonies are post-Wagnerian, handled with assurance. The textures, lean and elegant for the idiom, eschew contrapuntal filigree…the tightness of the musical argument impresses me most.

The Second Symphony…ends with a blazing trumpet chorale that raises hope, à la Bach. The solo string sonata strikes me as one of the toughest tests for any composer. The work has four movements: an aggressive march; a dignified, grieving sarabande; a mournful bourée and musette; and a leaping gigue, filled to the brim with double stops.

Laurence Kayaleh and her pianist, Paul Stewart, do well in the accompanied sonatas…Kayaleh comes alive in the solo violin sonata. She realizes more is at stake here than notes. Overall, however, this seems to me the best current disc of Honegger’s chamber music for violin, and it has the advantages of easy availability and the Naxos price. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, May 2011

Arthur Honegger’s sonatas for violin and piano weren’t written by Honegger, the member of Les Six; he hadn’t yet joined that confraternity when he wrote the first sonata, which Anyssa Neumann’s notes identify as No. 0, as a student at the Paris Conservatory, or the numbered first and second sonatas, either, both of which he completed before 1920. The Solo Sonata, a post-Six composition, appeared more than 20 years later, in 1940.

The Sonata No. 0, a long (more than 24-minute) and ambitious work, reveals a soaring, affecting romanticism in its first movement; an ardent expressivity in the slow movement; and insistently rhythmic drive (relieved by sinuously suggestive episodes) in its finale. Violinist Laurence Kayaleh produces a rich, throaty tone from the 1742 Guarneri del Gesù (once Carl Flesch’s) upon which she plays, drawing from it a wide range of timbres and dynamic nuances that help create a cogent argument in Honegger’s student compositional effort, both in its subtle rhetoric and in its sonorous climaxes. Pianist Paul Stewart also displays an affinity for Honegger’s shape-shifting, if not quite amorphous, early style, and Naxos’s vivid recorded sound balances both instruments close up. In all this, it’s clear that Honegger, who himself played the violin, had (and knew how to make effective use of) a very clear idea of how to write effectively for the instrument.

The First Sonata’s first movement, exploring more far-flung harmonies slowly and hauntingly, rises to powerful dramatic declamation, and subsides. The second, Presto, hews closer to the more traditional tonal line that the first movement occasionally skirted, not only in its piquant outer section but in the deliquescent melodies of its middle one as well. Here’s a movement so genially appealing that it might almost serve as an encore. The finale’s first section provides a kind of slow transitional passage to the more agitated movement proper, before a more deliberate tempo returns the movement at its end to the mysterious mists from which it arose. Both members of the duo revel in the veiled communication that passages of this kind seem to require.

In the Second Sonata, Honegger seems to have taken a step beyond the ambit of his earlier harmonic wanderings. The brief first movement relies for part of its effect on crisp counterpoint, to which Kayaleh and Stewart bring a bracing clarity. In the second movement, the violin meanders above a more aggressive accompaniment, while a sort of motoric perpetual motion occupies both instruments in many of the finale’s passages. The technical feats these passages feature require considerable virtuosity, which Kayaleh possesses in ample measure.

The Solo Sonata begins with bold, brash statements in chords (unlike the usual pattern of fast-slow-fast-slow movements in Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo sonatas, Honegger’s design follows a more symphonic pattern: fast-slow-moderately flowing-fast). While Honegger’s writing for the solo instrument may occasionally suggest Bach’s, he doesn’t rely so consistently on the kind of complex textures that created riveting interest in the earlier composer’s works for solo violin. And his frequently dissonant double-stops and chords sound more spiky than grinding, as similar ones can in Béla Bartók’s Solo Sonata; Kayaleh fits them into a convincing harmonic framework. The slow movement and brief Allegretto grazioso feature writing for violin that sounds closer in spirit to Eugène Ysaÿe’s than to either Bach’s or Bartók’s, while the finale returns to the first movement’s more abrasive thrusting, which, once again, foreshadows Bartók’s.

Ulf Wallin and Patricia Pagny included the three sonatas for violin and piano in their program of Honegger’s music for Stradivarius (33485); it’s clear from the beginning of the Sonata No. 0 in Wallin’s reading that he tends to let the music emerge more naturally, without pushing or pulling, than does Kayaleh. Stradivarius’s engineers have accorded him less vibrant recorded sound, and his instrument consistently sounds tubby by comparison with hers. Kayaleh’s program has the advantage of including the sonata from 1940, a strong-minded and virtuosic essay in 20th-century writing for solo violin. (For those interested in Honegger, both recordings will be essential.)

Honegger’s sonatas, spanning more than a generation, worlds as diverse as those of Franck and Fauré at the beginning and Ysaÿe and Bartók at the other (always with a reminiscence, however faint, of Bach), exhibit a wide variety of styles, and listeners who have an interest in the composer, in 20th-century violin music, or in chamber music should find them ingratiating and nearly irresistible.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, April 2011

Honegger’s sonatas for violin and piano are very well played by Laurence Kayaleh and pianist Paul Stewart (8.572192). The first, written, without an opus number when he was 20, is a 25-minute rambling piece in three movements that sounds quite Fauré-ish. Sonata No.1 is slightly shorter, also in three movements. The scherzo is fast, but the trio sounds like Fauré. The Sonata No. 2 is on the way to mature Honegger, with dissonant counterpoint and catchy tunes. It is only 12 minutes long, in three movements. The disc also contains the composer’s Sonata for Solo Violin, written in 1940, a 15-minute work in four movements. Finally, it represents the mature composer and is an impressive work, obviously written with the technique of Bach’s unaccompanied partitas and sonatas for violin in mind.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2011

It’s very unusual to find all Honegger’s Violin Sonatas—which includes the solo sonata of 1940—grouped together in one disc. In fact I’m not aware of another such coupling in the current catalogue, which gives this budget price entrant cachet. Even better, the performances are persuasive and finely played and recorded.

This would amount to a recommendation even were the music not so attractive, which is not to say it’s transparent, as there are moments of occlusion and introspection along the way. The First Sonata is actually the unnumbered D minor of 1912. I agree wholly with Anyssa Neumann’s booklet notes that the opening embeds genuine ‘pathos’—it’s the pathos of popular song, in my view, to which Laurence Kayaleh responds with pervasive and elegant portamenti and effusive lyric intensity. There’s a degree of agitato in this work and Brahmsian striving, and it’s understandable that it was not published during Honegger’s lifetime in a sense, given the influences. But it’s still a big, confident utterance from the young composer. The slow movement is engagingly done, with its odd Delian moments, and the March section is well characterised. The confident and puckish finale is interrupted by a moment of baroque reportage, before a nobly conceived maestoso sweeps us to the finish. As she does throughout, Kayaleh plays with a refined tonal palette. She doesn’t make a big sound, but it is finely coloured.

The first numbered sonata was written during the last two years of the First World War. It’s a more focused work, less effusive, and sites the fast movement centrally between two essentially slow ones. The central panel of the Presto is played with the mute, and the whole thing is freely ruminative, though I detect Franck still in his musical handwriting. Stark intoning begins the finale, and here Kayaleh powerfully intensifies her vibrato width. It’s hard not to read into this movement something of the same spirit, but not the same means, that informs John Ireland’s contemporaneous Second Violin Sonata.

By contrast the 1919 Second Sonata has rather dreamlike qualities. It takes in a fugal moment, whilst remaining strongly chromatic, indeed compact in its reach—it’s 12 minutes in length in this performance. The finale’s ebullience removes the rather heavy atmosphere brilliantly, fully conveyed by Kayaleh and Paul Stewart. The solo sonata is becoming ever more popular and this performance will not harm that status in any way. What I like especially is the generosity of her grazioso phrasing in the Allegretto; delightfully done.

So if you lack these sonatas, or are curious about Honegger’s approach to them, this disc will stand as a fine guide with performances as subtle as they are perceptive.

Kevin Filipski
Times Square, December 2010

CD of the Week

Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, although part of the celebrated avant-garde Les Six movement, was mainly conservative in his musical language. That’s not to denigrate his very real achievements, however: his symphonies, oratorios and film scores are among the most accomplished of any 20th century orchestral body of work. His chamber music is less well-known, but as this disc of his complete violin sonatas shows, he wrote much lasting music for small forces. The D minor quartet, for all intents and purposes a student work, displays a confident young composer. The two numbered violin sonatas, penned during and just after World War I, are elegantly written; the solo bleak and somber Violin Sonata from 1940 nods to Bach’s solo violin works. Violinist Laurence Kayaleh and pianist Paul Stewart play these still-fresh works with purpose and gracefulness, which is what Honegger’s music demands.

James Manheim, December 2010

Except for the first, unnumbered sonata, a student work, the works on this album were clearly highly valued by the composer; he premiered the Sonata No. 2 H. 24, himself in 1919, and the two numbered sonatas are both good examples of his dense style, which seems to lie halfway between Strauss and Debussy. The most extraordinary work here is the Sonata for solo violin in D minor, H. 143, composed in 1940 and clearly a response to the outbreak of war. It is a fusion of Honegger’s own language with that of Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas for solo violin, and it demands considerable traction from the soloist. Laurence Kayaleh, a young violinist who teaches at the University of Montreal, has specialized in national chamber works of the first half of the twentieth century, and she does Honegger proud, with unflagging long lines and a beautiful tone on her 1742 Guarneri instrument. Recommended for those who have heard the big Honegger hits and may have been curious about other music by this composer.

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