The death of Guillaume Lekeu from typhoid fever at the age of 24 was certainly not as great a loss as the earlier premature deaths of Mozart and Schubert, but one can't listen to the few important works he managed to leave behind without wondering what he heights he might reached had he only survived. Lekeu was very much a man of his time, a product of the fragrant, hothouse Romanticism that flourished in France in the late Nineteenth Century. A student of Franck, he was championed by D'Indy, befriended by Eugene Ysaye. Like many young composers before him, Lekeu made the obligatory pilgrimage to Bayreuth to worship at the shrine of Wagner; overcome with emotion, he passed out during the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde.
Much like the Franck Sonata for Violin and Piano
in A major, Lekeu's Sonata in G major is characterized by the cyclic repetition
of thematic material. If you're drawn to the music of Franck, D'Indy, and
Chausson, you'll feel instantly at home in Lekeu's sound world. The music is
atmospheric, moody, and (in the last movement) fiercely dramatic. The big tunes
(the opening theme of the central slow movement, for example) are irresistible,
and there are many bold turns that keep the listener off guard and fully
engaged. A neglected masterpiece, if ever there was one.
Ravel only completed a single movement of his
Sonata in A major, a student work he wrote while studying with Gabriel Faure. It
is an unashamedly Romantic work with its roots firmly in the Nineteenth Century:
one recalls that Ravel too made his own pilgrimage to Bayreuth. The contrast to
the Sonata in G major couldn't be starker. Written after the composer's horrific
experience in the First World War, the death of his mother, and the onset of
serious illness, it is a much more ambiguous, complex work that reflects the
composer's late style.
In Ravel's own words, the first movement explores the irreconcilability of two "fundamentally incompatible instruments." The famous second movement is a surprisingly convincing and playful blues, the last a bracing "perpetuum mobile" that features propulsive, buzzsaw runs of uninterrupted sixteenth motes.
The Tzigane was written for Hungarian violinist Jelly D'Aranyi, who first introduced Ravel to gypsy music. It is a brilliant pastiche, simply and breathtakingly virtuosic. The three-minute Berceuse is homage to his teacher, an act of reverent mimicry.
Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien have both established very active and successful solo careers, but this recital suggests that as a duo they're a match made in musical heaven. I'll resist the temptation to exhaust my store of superlatives, and simply say that they play each of these pieces with a youthful ardor, a passionate intensity, and a brilliant virtuosity that bring every moment to vivacious life. As one critic said of a recent live performance, they manage to combine "total abandon and total control." Best of all, they do not overplay the second movement of the G major as too many others tend to do. The "perpetuum mobile" and the Tzigane are both electrifying. And, to all these considerable virtues, you can add Hyperion's magically well-balanced and stunning acoustics. Recently a British critic said of a disc he was reviewing: "Every now and again, a recording comes along that makes you want to dance in the street, handing out copies to complete strangers." Well, that's how I feel about this one. Highly, urgently recommended.