Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano

Composer: César Franck (b. 1822 - d. 1890)
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Composer: César Franck (b. 1822 - d. 1890)

Performance date: 08/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1886

Duration: 00:27:58

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, 2va, 2vc

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Alina Ibragimova - [violin]
Cédric Pescia - [piano]

Alina Ibragimova [violin], Cédric Pescia [piano]

César Franck [1822-1890]

Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano [1886]

1. Allegretto ben moderato

2. Allegro

3. Recitativo – Fantasia

4. Allegretto poco mosso

César Franck was a major figure in nineteenth century French music. His first instrument was the organ and it was as professor of organ that he was appointed to the Paris Conservatoire in 1871. His organ class quickly became an unofficial composition class and he gathered around him a circle of disciples, who were attracted by his teaching skill and his receptiveness to new ideas. His teaching was committed both to the strict classical form handed down from Beethoven and the harmonic innovations of late Romanticism. This did in some cases lead to self-indulgent excess, but in Franck’s best works, such as the piano quintet, the quartet and this sonata, we are swept away by his lyrical passion. 

The Violin Sonata is such a magnificent work that it has been hijacked by cellists, violists and even flautists. It was written as a wedding gift for the Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe, whose skills were such that he performed it virtually at sight at the wedding celebrations on 26 September 1886. When the Sonata was premiered in Paris the next year, the enthusiasm was such that the finale had to be encored. Its popularity continues to the present day with over seventy recordings in the current catalogue.

The sheer beauty of the instrumental writing lends the work instant accessibility, and Franck’s perfectly judged control of instrumental balance and changing moods makes it equally rewarding for the players and the audience. It never descends to sentimentality or post-romantic indulgence, managing to combine rigorous development with inspirational freshness. 

The sensuous opening sets the tone for the first movement as well as generating the thematic material for almost the entire movement. This theme recurs in both the fantasia and the finale. The turbulent second movement erupts explosively with its passionate declamation, long lines of fiery intensity that pause only for a brief moment of indecision. The closing bars reach such heights of passion that it is hard to imagine the music can possibly continue. The recitativo however makes no concessions, as the two instruments talk at each other before the fantasia develops the violinist’s expressive powers to the full. The finale opens with an effortless canon, showing off the composer’s skill at counterpoint but also harmoniously uniting the two players. Despite some big outbursts, the passion is now spent and the comparatively melodic theme holds sway for most of the movement; nonetheless the coda accelerates impressively to the well-deserved applause.

Francis Humphrys