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Album review: Deep and delicious Franck and Strauss violin sonatas from Dumay and Lortie

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I live for days like the one when I received a new album by pianist Louis Lortie and violinist/condcutor Augustin Dumay featuring music by César Franck and Richard Strauss.

Strauss’s Violin Sonata is my favourite work for these two instruments. It is operatic in its sweep (written by a 23-year-old composer who was only still dreaming of opera), it offers both pianist and violinist the opportunity to show their sensitive as well as showy sides, and it is built on a complex structure that offers a fresh revelation with each listen.

From the brash, crashing opening notes to the sweet filigree of the second-movement Improvisation, everything Lortie and Dumay do sounds exactly right. It is as if they are thinking and breathing in exact unison.

And this is only the start of the album.

Strauss is also represented by Jascha Heifetz’s arrangement of “Auf stillem Waldespfad” from a set of even earlier Strauss tone-poem miniatures for piano. Dumay and Lortie play with such simplicity, yet even this sweet little piece is full of nuance.

The other big sonata on the album is César Franck’s, written by the much older man a year before Strauss’s. Its an old favourite that, like Strauss’s, offers a wealth of changing moods and thematic details to keep the ear and mind entertained.

The disc is fleshed out with Mélancolie, a little trifle, and Lortie and Dumay’s own arrangement of Franck’s B-minor Prélude, fugue et variation, which he wrote for his new Cavaillé-Coll organ at Ste Clothilde Church in Paris in 1862. It’s a great piece of music that sounds particularly lyrical in the hands of these two masters. They wisely chose to leave the fugue entirely in the hands of the pianist.

The album is such a treat from beginning to end. The late-Romantic music may be too rich for some palates, but the elegance Lortie and Dumay bring to their interpretations is as if someone had really been able to invent a low-fat buttercream that tastes good.

The audio quality is also exceptional, finding the balance between close and spacious.

If there is one characteristic that really makes this album particularly special, it is the pacing that these two great artists bring to even the lightest pieces.

You can find all the details of this Onyx release here.

John Terauds

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