Juan Krakenberger
Mundo Clasico (Spain)

This album, produced in Australia, with government support under the auspices of the Ian Potter Foundation, is being distributed by the Melba Foundation, which has a long list of patrons and benefactors. The result of this collaboration is excellent. The presentation of the album—both the music-making and the sound quality of the recording—attains a degree of perfection that would be difficult to surpass.

The disc includes the works of Maurice Ravel written for violin and piano, and for violin and cello from 1907 to 1927. They are representative of the art of the very great Basque-French composer and are performed here by three young musicians: the violinist Kristian Winther was born in 1984 in Canberra, the cellist Michelle Wood who completed her studies at the University of Melbourne in 2003, and the pianist Anthony Romaniuk who graduated, in 2003, from the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

Tzigane, which dates from 1924, is performed in its original version for violin and piano. Ravel later transcribed the piece for orchestra. The first part is an extended violin solo of great virtuosity. From the first bars it is clear that violinist Kristian Winther is a consummate instrumentalist, pitch perfect and possessing the ability to capture this gypsy-inspired music, with generous use of portamenti. When the piano enters, the combined sound is perfect. The crescendi leading to the climax, ranging from a whisper to a powerful volume, are punctuated by frequent rubati. The acceleration leading to the end is spectacular.

This same quality also pervades the version of the Sonata for violin and piano. Strictly speaking, it is the Sonata No. 2, if a student work written in 1897 and not published until 1975 is included. This sonata dates from 1923 and consists of three movements: Allegretto, Blues (Moderato) and Perpetuum Mobile (Allegro). In its day it was performed by the famous Georges Enescu and is certainly a masterpiece of the genre. Few sonatas for violin and piano written since then can be measured with it, until today. Again the sound of the recording exceeds in quality any existing versions of this sonata, which are few. The subtleties of the sound of the violin in the first movement, the quality of the pizzicati in the second, and the clarity of the semi-quavers in the Perpetuum Mobile of the last movement—where there is an episode of crescendo from a subtle piano to a fortissimo, returning to the piano—trick the senses. Really spectacular!

Less dramatic but no less beautiful is the version of the Pièce en forme de Habañera which dates from 1907. Here the French / Basque music by Ravel shines with this gorgeous melody. And this search for the exotic is also true for the Deux Mélodies Hébraïques—‘Kaddisch’ and ‘L’énigme éternelle’ from the years 1914 / 9. The first, a funeral oration, and the second, enigmatic and solemn, sound in all their glory and magic.

To complete the record, we have the Sonata for violin and cello, written in 1920–22, with its four movements Allegro –Très vif – Lent – Vif avec entrain. This sonata lasts just over 20 minutes. The first and third movements consist of contemplative music of longing, while the second movement—using pizzicato in abundance—is expressive and optimistic. The last movement is in ABA form, with a determined A section and a B section breathing with gentle humour.

The interpretation of these works is optimal. Winther has a beautiful, malleable sound that can be gentle or strong and his tuning is simply perfect. The accompaniment of the pianist stands out above all for dynamics, always shaped in tandem with the line drawn by the violin. And in the Sonata for violin and cello, Michelle Wood demonstrates that she spends a lot of time playing chamber music: the harmony that occurs in conversation between the two instruments is unsurpassed.

The essay notes in English by William Yeoman (with translations into German and French) are very informative and relevant. Pictures of the performers, brief biographies and a list of patrons complete the documentation.

For lovers of music by Ravel, this disc is absolutely indispensable.