Rêves - Philippe Graffin. © 2024 Traces Production


A Winning Personality

GERALD FENECH strongly recommends music by Eugène Ysaÿe on the Avie Records label

'... passionate intensity and inspired brilliance ...'


The incomparable violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe was born in Liège, Belgium, on 16 July 1858. He received his first music lessons from his father at the age of five. At age seven Ysaÿe made his first public appearance, but this was a failure and a blow to his father's expectations. The young Eugène was certainly no prodigy and, at one point, he was thrown out of the Liège Conservatoire due to mostly poor performance.

In 1873 he began studies with the great Henryk Wieniawski and this tuition proved to be a turning point in the aspiring virtuoso's career. Shortly after, Ysaÿe was taken under the able wing of Henri Vieuxtemps, a highly talented violinist and composer, and through the influence of the latter, Ysaÿe managed to obtain a government subsidy which allowed him to continue his studies with the master himself.

In 1879 Ysaÿe went to Cologne to play a few concerts and there he made the acquaintance of Joseph Joachim, who at the time was regarded as the finest violinist around. In Cologne Ysaÿe performed Beethoven's C minor Sonata with Clara Schumann at the piano, and this experience helped him establish his name on the international stage.

Soon his star was on the rise. He toured Norway in 1881 and in 1883 he played at the Paris Conservatoire, where he met and befriended César Franck and Ernest Chausson. He also performed in Vienna where he brought the roof down night after night. His success was mainly due as much to his inimitable and innovative style as to his winning personality and, more often than not, he left his audience mesmerized with his playing.

The composer lived most of his life in Belgium, where in 1896 he married Louise Bourdeau de Coutrai with whom he had three sons. Louise died in 1924 but Ysaÿe did not dither too much on his loss. Shortly after, he married a lass of thirty-six, Jeanette Dincin, and this second wife made the seventy-year-old composer feel young again.

Ysaÿe died on 12 May 1931, shortly before his seventy-third birthday, leaving behind a rather protracted catalogue of works which, nonetheless, are considered to be full of technical mastery and brilliance.

This album from Avie Records, entitled Rêves, features two world premiere recordings by acclaimed French violinist Philippe Graffin. The world premiere recording of Ysaÿe's Violin Concerto in E minor has at last arrived. Following the recent discovery of a first movement, further manuscripts which complete the work have come to light - one a full orchestration, others for violin and piano - which were found on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Graffin's close collaboration with Ysaÿe aficionado Xavier Falques led to a page-by-page analysis and painstaking reconstruction of the musical puzzle pieces, resulting in this full three-movement concerto which displays Ysaÿe's trademark ardour, intensity and originality.

Listen — Ysaÿe: Allegro in modo di pomposo ma furioso
(Violin Concerto in E minor)
(AV2650 track 4, 0:00-0:54) ℗ 2024 Traces Festival :

For reasons unknown, the composer abandoned this concerto in 1885, but some years later embarked on another, Poème concertant, which was also recently discovered in manuscript form and is imbued with passion and the love Ysaÿe felt for his pupil Irma Sethe. Their love was mutual but their relationship could not endure, possibly sealing the fate of Poème concertant, which lay undiscovered for over a century but is now brought back to life with Graffin's sensitive rendition.

Listen — Ysaÿe: Poème concertant
(AV2650 track 1, 9:01-9:57) ℗ 2024 Traces Festival :

Phillipe rounds out this recording with three Ysaÿe gems for violin and piano: two Mazurkas de Salon, Op 10, works the composer/violinist frequently performed and gained popularity with throughout Europe and Russia in his lifetime, and Rêve d'enfant (A Child's Dream) which he dedicated to his youngest son Antoine.

Listen — Ysaÿe: Rêve d'enfant
(AV2650 track 7, 2:40-3:38) ℗ 2024 Traces Festival :

Sadly, Ysaÿe's popularity rests mainly on his six Violin Sonatas while the rest of his output still suffers from an unjust neglect. These pieces are extremely well crafted and full of exhilarating moments that span a wide spectrum of emotions, those for violin and piano included.

This is a programme of works that are guaranteed to light up your spirit and reach out to your heart and mind. Graffin despatches these virtuosic compositions with passionate intensity and inspired brilliance, and his capacity to bring out all the pyrotechnical details of the soloist's part is indeed awesome.

On an issue that should enhance Ysaÿe's stock no end and a constant pleasure to listen to, the presentation, sound and annotations are as sumptuous as the music itself. Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 12 March 2024 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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