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Violin Sonata No 1 in A major, Op 13

'Fauré: Violin Sonatas' (CDH55030)
Fauré: Violin Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro molto
Track 1 on CDH55030 [9'29] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Andante
Track 2 on CDH55030 [7'26] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Allegro vivo
Track 3 on CDH55030 [4'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4: Allegro quasi presto
Track 4 on CDH55030 [5'25] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Violin Sonata No 1 in A major, Op 13
Violin Sonata No 1 in A major, Op 13, was enthusiastically received at its first performance in January 1877, and prompted a glowing review by Saint-Saëns in the Journal de Musique. Today it remains arguably the most popular of all Fauré’s chamber works, cherished for its freshness and verve, its characteristic Fauréan balance of elegant restraint and romantic ardour. Though all four movements are constructed along traditional lines (the first, second and last in sonata form), the music is confidently and profoundly individual, quite unlike any chamber music that had been heard before. Fauré proclaims his originality at the very outset: a supple, wide-arching cantilena, at once leisurely and urgent, unfolds over an exceptionally long span of 21 bars. There are already hints of a harmonic restlessness that is intensified in the expressively falling second main theme, sounded on the violin, which modulates ceaselessly over a rising chromatic bass. The development, which casts searching new light on each of the themes in turn, culminates in a particularly beautiful lull, the second theme floating ethereally above deep, hushed piano chords.

In the D minor Andante, in 9/8 time, there is a disquieting marriage between the gently swaying barcarolle rhythms often favoured by Fauré, and the intense, at times visionary, chromaticism. The rising piano arpeggios of the opening are inverted in the second idea which begins in a tenderly assuaging F major but is quickly deflected through a passionate sequence of modulations: in the recapitulation this theme, now in D major, builds to a still more searing climax, with astonishingly sonorous scoring.

Despite faint echoes of Mendelssohn, the Allegro vivo scherzo is a movement of delicious individuality, with its gossamer textures (note, for instance, the violin’s sudden bursts of pizzicato), its fleet harmonic sideslips and its teasing cross-rhythms. The trio offers a telling change of mood and sonority: a wistful cantabile melody, slightly Schumannesque in feeling, unfolds unhurriedly over a calmly undulating keyboard accompaniment. Not surprisingly, this movement was vociferously encored at its first performance.

The 6/8 finale, Allegro quasi presto, draws a striking contrast between its serene opening idea, oscillating hypnotically around a recurrent C sharp (a favourite melodic trait of Fauré) and the bitingly syncopated second theme which, with its various counter-melodies, dominates the closing stages of the exposition. In the development, the first three notes of the initial theme are worked almost obsessively against a new, sinuous violin melody that subtly emphasizes the intervals of the second and third on which the opening idea is built. The coda allows the violin its only flight of pure virtuosity in the work; yet, characteristically, the brilliant spiccato scales are held down to pianissimo until the very last bars.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 1999

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