AN 2 8798 Ravel Debussy Sonates

Ravel, Debussy: Sonates

Release date March 09, 2018
Album code AN 2 8798
Periods 20th century

They spoke about it

Album information

On this first recording, violinist Blake Pouliot and pianist Hsin-I Huang perform works by two great French composers of the first half of the 20th century – Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy – who both wrote sonatas for violin and piano. And while both are mature and refined masterworks, they nevertheless demonstrate two very different conceptions of this instrumental duo. While Debussy so intertwines the instruments’ timbres that they almost meld, Ravel strives for a greater individualization of the two instruments. A pair of works, Tzigane and Beau Soir, complete a panorama that shows off the performers’ sensitivity and virtuosity.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in G Major by Maurice Ravel

Ravel began the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in G Major, M. 77, in 1923 but did not complete it for another four years. His last piece of chamber music, the sonata continued down the path of austerity Ravel took with the Sonata for Violin and Cello in C Major (1921 – 1922), carrying the independence of the instrumental parts even further than in Chansons madécasses (1925 – 1926). “I forced this independence on myself,” Ravel explained, “by writing a sonata for piano and violin, instruments that are essentially incompatible; and, far from balancing out their contrasts, I call attention to their incompatibility”.

The first movement, “Allegretto,” starts with a simple modal melody stated first in the piano and then partially taken up by the violin a fifth higher. Into the interstices of the violin’s statement slips a more mechanical motif of short repeated notes with a quick leap of a fourth in the piano’s low register. Several glimpses of a more daring harmonic language reflect a jazz influence. This influence is even more prominent in the second movement, “Blues,” which features an improvisational character, ostinatos, syncopated rhythms, and suggestive glissandi. The third movement opens with an echo of the mechanical theme from the first movement, rhythmically accelerating to a series of 16th notes in the violin that continues uninterrupted to the very end of the work, justifying its title “Perpetuum mobile”.

The origins of Tzigane

Ravel’s letters offer clues as to why the Sonata for Violin and Piano had such a long gestation. In January 1924, Ravel was overcome by depression. He thought he would be able to finish the piece for early February, but his dark mood prevented him from working, and he had to postpone the premiere, which he had promised for a concert in London that spring. To replace it on the program, he wrote Tzigane, a series of variations that swing between gravity and parody, which he described as a “virtuosic work in the style of a Hungarian rhapsody”.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 by Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy wrote his Sonata for Violin and Piano in the throes of a long, painful illness and in a country that had been ravaged by World War I. The war had intensified the French composer’s nationalism, and in 1915, he began a series of six sonatas for various instruments in the tradition of the great 18th-century French masters. Only three were completed, however, the G minor violin sonata being the last of these. “I finally finished the Sonata,” wrote Debussy to his friend Robert Godet on May 7, 1917. “In a very human spirit of contradiction, it is full of a joyous tumult. In future, beware of works that seem to soar in the sky; they have often languished in the darkness of a morose mind”.

The first movement, “Allegro vivo,” alternates impassioned interludes with moments of great calm in which a rather slow harmonic rhythm and the hypnotic repetition of accompanying piano motifs seems to suspend time. After its capricious introduction and mischievous first section, the more playful central movement (“Fantasque et léger”) displays clear Spanish influences. These can also be heard in the finale, “Très animé,” which opens with a distant echo of the sonata’s opening theme, leading to what Debussy described as “a simple theme that turns back on itself like a snake biting its tail”.

The poetic Beau Soir

The program concludes with one of Debussy’s youthful works, composed in 1891 on a poem by Paul Bourget entitled “Beau Soir” (beautiful evening), transcribed for violin by A. Walter Kramer around 1914. Even in its instrumental version, these few pages of music skilfully convey the poem’s mood of intimacy, contemplation, and resignation.

© Florence Brassard
English translation: Peter Christensen

Beau Soir

When rivers run pink as the sun sets down
And a ripple runs warm over fields of wheat,
An ode to joy rises from all around
And soars to the heart bittersweet.

An ode to taste the charms of life this day
While we are young and the evening abloom,
Because, like that wave, we all make our way:
Rivers to sea, and we to tomb.

Paul Bourget
English Translation © Peter Garner (Christensen)

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Blake Pouliot
Hsin-I Huang
AN 2 8835 Ground Midnight
AN 2 8835 Ground Midnight

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