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James Manheim, August 2011

…what’s recorded here are not a group of pieces called Impressions, or a variety of works, but the Sonatas for violin solo, Op. 27. These six pieces, after years of neglect, have become popular once again, with new recordings appearing from mostly young violinists. The appeal of the sonatas to younger players may have to do with their musical language: just as distinctive as the mind-bending virtuosity of the music (many passages could hardly be guessed to be for a single violin) is its stylistic pastiche. This is not simply a question of the potpourri type of composition that was still common enough in 1923, when these sonatas were composed. Ysaÿe’s conception of structure is closer to what fans of contemporary popular music might call a mash-up. Consider the first movement of the Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Op. 27/2 (track 5), where one of the themes from Bach’s Partita No. 3 for solo violin, BWV 1006, is interwoven with the Dies irae chant melody. The general trend among players has been to take this as, to use modern parlance once again, extreme violin. But Polish violinist Wojciech Koprowski lets the music speak for itself; the Dies irae emerges from the texture with clarity but no special emphasis. Throughout, as Ysaÿe explores various phases of musical history and even the styles of his violin-playing contemporaries, Koprowski relies on technical mastery of the music—no small feat—rather than exaggeration of details to draw attention to them. There’s some evidence that Ysaÿe himself, who was recorded a few times, tended toward a more dramatic approach, but Koprowski deserves credit for running counter to type, and this is certainly a more-than-competent reading of some pieces that seem to take the whole cultural inheritance of the early 20th century and place it on the four strings of a single violin.

Andrew Morris
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Judging by the number of new recordings of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonatas for solo violin, it seems that this remarkable cycle of violinistic high-wire acts is taking hold among young string players. It may be that young violinists are seeing them as a short cut to credibility; the demands made of the musician are certainly as great as anything else in the solo violin repertoire and they are not simply flashy showpieces. Within them lies a world of reference—both to Bach and to Ysaÿe’s great violinist friends—as well as a technical time-capsule preserving in perpetuity the sound of their composer, one of the greatest of all violinists, who sadly peaked just before the advent of recorded sound.

Polish violinist Wojciech Koprowski, born in 1987, brings a staggeringly assured technique to these pieces, playing throughout with a clarity and beauty of tone. In the First Sonata, the most overtly Bachian in form and movement, Koprowski is precise and ultra smooth. The voices of the Fugato are excellently defined, played with minimal vibrato, and without prior knowledge you’d not know this was just one instrument. Koprowski is also excellent at the more introverted moments of the more celebrated Second Sonata, particularly in the Danse des ombres movement. It’s fair to say that you won’t hear a more immaculate recording of these works; every double stop is precisely tuned and every voice clear.

There is, however, a lack of fire and movement in the faster movements, which can tend to sound a little metronomic. For all his technical command, he rarely engages with the score’s implicit demand to reproduce Ysaÿe’s idea of style and sound. Ysaÿe smothers these pieces with an unprecedented level of performance instruction, carefully managing every detail from rubato to fingering. Yet Koprowski’s are thoroughly modern performances, rarely employing the more antiquated style of shifts and slides familiar from the few recordings of Ysaÿe.

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