YSAŸE Poème élégiaque. Extase. FRANCK Violin Sonata • Lisa Jacobs (vn); Ksenia Kouzmenko (pn) • CHALLENGE 72624 (56:08)
All the works on Lisa Jacobs's debut CD have a connection to violinist-composer Eugène Ysaÿe, who wrote the first two himself and, as dedicatee, received César Franck's Violin Sonata as a wedding present. Playing on a 1683 Rugieri in a reverberant environment in July 2013, Jacobs gives, in partnership with pianist Ksenia Kouzmenko, a haunting impression of Ysaÿe's ebbing and flowing harmonic and melodic style in his Poème élégiaque. Her violin sounds for the most part commanding in the middle and lower registers and pure in the upper ones. If the virtuosity required in this work remains, at least until about halfway through its duration, primarily tonal and expressive, Jacobs possesses the insight and subtlety to realize its elusive demands (although the work does make many references to Ernest Chausson's similarly titled work, for which it served as a model). Philippe Graffin played the work with Pascal Devoyon on Hyperion 66980, Fanfare 20:6, as did Frank Peter Zimmermann on EMI 7243 5 55255 2 9, Fanfare 18:6 (Albrecht Breuninger took advantage of an orchestration by the composer's grandson, Jacques Ysaÿe). (David Oistrakh also played it with piano.) Both Graffin and Jacobs seem, from the very outset, gauzier and more suggestive than does Zimmerman, but Graffin's program consists only of compositions by Ysaÿe, so the choice of recording will necessarily depend heavily upon the program, though for the Poème only, it would be hard to beat Jacobs. David Oistrakh recorded Ysaÿe's Extase twice, but Jacobs follows its shifting moods with great equal confidence and resulting magisterial authority--and tonal splendor.
Jacobs and Kouzmenko begin Franck's sonata deliberately but suggestively, imparting to it a heavy weight, but the movement, at least most of the way through, seems to bear up well. And just when it threatens to become too glutinous, Jacobs and Kouzmenko rescue it from the abyss, capturing the listener's attention with an expressive gesture. Kouzmenko thunders in the opening of the Allegro that follows, and Jacobs's entry exhibits equal energy; but Jacobs introduces portamentos into the movement's more reflective sections that establish her performance as individual as well as idiomatic. In this movement, as well as in the third, the Recitativo-Fantasia, which the duo begins in a more subdued tone, lead nuanced sections to searing climaxes. They induce in the listener states of quasi-mystical ecstasy in the canonic finale (the first remains the only movement in which the weight threatens, if only occasionally, to capsize the ship.) Even those who treasure older performances by David Oistrakh, Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern (not to mention Jacques Thibaud or Zino Francescatti) should still welcome this reading.
The repertoire Jacobs has chosen for her premiere might not mirror that of other young violinists, but it appears to be perfectly tailored to her musical personality. Challenge refuses to print the tracks' timings in the booklet, referring readers instead to the Internet (a marketing ploy?). But little's been saved: Those timings would have fit into a space similar to that occupied by the direction to the web. Of course, listeners can merely copy those timings into the booklet directly from their CD players or computers. But that's a quibble, and almost all everyone will find that the performances, the recorded sound, and the instrument--as well the program itself--fuse into an irresistible, nearly overwhelming whole. Strongly recommended.