VIOLIN SONATA IN A MAJOR
RENAUD CAPUCON, VIOLIN
KHATIA BUNIATISHVILI, PIANO
Generally speaking, the further we get away, in history, from the lives of even the greatest composers, we “know” them through fewer and fewer works. As an example, Mozart wrote 626 works. Even though the average music lover may indeed love Mozart, the odds are pretty high that he only knows a fraction of Mozart’s works, and perhaps a small fraction at that. These two factors—the more a composer wrote and the further back in time his life occurred–can be real roadblocks in fully knowing a composer.
I am only bringing this up because I am posting the Violin Sonata of Cesar Franck today. Franck was a very-known and highly respected French musician of the 19th century. He lived from 1822 to 1890. He had been born in Belgium, later studying and then living in Paris. He became known as the greatest organist of his day. He wrote nearly 100 works, representing all major genres—opera, orchestral, piano, organ, chamber, many songs, and sacred works. Many of his works are highly exciting, full of the richest harmony. Yet, we know him today, essentially, from just a handful of works:
• Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue for solo piano (MIL #109)
• Symphony in D Minor
• Panus Angelicus, a hymn setting for tenor
• Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra
• Violin Sonata in A Major
We should, of course, be very glad indeed that we have and know all that we DO have and know of Franck. My guess would be that in another hundred or two hundred years, this Violin Sonata may be THE work of Franck that survives in the collective musical imagination. The Violin Sonata is not just one of Franck’s greatest works, it is also one of THE great violin sonatas. It was written when Franck was 63 as a wedding present for the 31-year old Eugene Ysaye, the Belgian violinist, composer, and conductor. It is a work that is central in the repertoire of all violinists.
The work is written in four movements, and features something called “thematic transformation” in which the composer transplants themes used in previous movements into later ones, “transformed” in some way. The piano part is especially difficult—Franck himself was not only a formidable organist, but his skills as pianist were virtuosic. As you will hear, the work is as much a performance challenge for the pianist as the violinist.
I first played the Franck Sonata with a roommate at Juilliard, who studied with the great Dorothy Delay—THE violin teacher of the last half of the twentieth century. Needless to say, those are sessions I will never forget.
The fourth and final movement of the Sonata is a real celebration of melodic joy. It is a work that is often used—in violin competitions, for instance—as a standalone work to show off one’s violinistic prowess. In this recording, the French violinist Renaud Capucon performs with the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili.
Capucon (b. 1976) is a musician who specializes in the performance of chamber music, and has recorded a great number of them to critical acclaim. Buniatishvili (b. 1987) is actually the bigger name of these two musicians. She has performed with orchestras all over the world, and is nearly as well-known for her social activism as she is for her onstage glamour. She is hardly boxed into simply being a classical player, either. Her collaboration with Coldplay on their “Head Full of Dreams” as well as her touring as piano accompanist for Olympic ice skating champions both give an idea of her musical versatility.
There are a number of recordings of the Franck Violin Sonata on YouTube, as might be expected for such a famous work. To my ears, this one is the right combination of forward thrust and romantic singing lines.
Enjoy one of the jewels of the violin repertoire, an elegant piece performed with elegance in an elegant setting.