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Violin Sonata No 2 in E minor, Op 108

'Fauré: Violin Sonatas' (CDH55030)
Fauré: Violin Sonatas
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'Fauré: Lydia's Vocalises' (CKD488)
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Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro non troppo

Violin Sonata No 2 in E minor, Op 108
More than forty years separate the A major sonata from its successor, the Violin Sonata No 2 in E minor, Op 108, which initiates the wonderful sequence of Fauré’s late chamber works composed, like the final quartets of Beethoven, under the painful affliction of deafness. The E minor sonata was begun at Evian, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in August 1916 and completed in Paris the following winter. It is a powerful, concentrated work whose first movement attains a violence of expression that reflects both the grim period in which it was composed and, more specifically, Fauré’s anxieties about his son, Philippe, who was away on active service. With its disconcerting shifts of mood, its density of thought and its esoteric harmonic idiom, the E minor sonata found far less favour with the public than its more approachable predecessor. In 1922, when Alfred Cortot was to play the work before Elizabeth, Queen of the Belgians, to whom it is dedicated, Fauré complained to his wife that ‘my poor sonata is still so rarely played’. Even today, when many musicians regard it as the finer of the two violin sonatas, it is still much less well known than the A major.

In the first movement Fauré creates music of disturbing force within a design that represents an original interpretation of sonata form. There are three main ideas: the first menacing and syncopated, flaring up from the depths of the keyboard; the second passionate and tortuously chromatic, sounded high on the violin; and the third a gently lyrical melody whose consolatory calm is threatened by the opening syncopated figure in the bass. The sequence of these three ideas, and a broad tonal scheme that moves from E minor to G major, corresponds to a sonata exposition. But what follows is not the traditional development and recapitulation but rather three continuous sections each of which states and develops the themes in their original order. Of these the first can be viewed as a second exposition, the latter two as varied recapitulations. The music touches an intensity of violence at the start of the first recapitulation—where the canonic writing, so characteristic of late Fauré, possesses an almost brutal rawness—and in the coda, which contorts the opening theme into new, harshly angular shapes.

The Andante, in A major, exudes the rarified serenity tinged with disquiet that pervades much of Fauré’s later music. Its main theme, derived from the rejected D minor symphony of 1884, sets a melodic line of delicate, refined simplicity against ambivalent chromatic harmonies: on the theme’s reprise, in C major, midway through the movement, the harmonies become still stranger. A second melody, announced espressivo on the violin, hovers hauntingly between E major and the remoteness of F minor; its subsequent developments, often in canon, attain a moving intensity, impassioned yet restrained. The profoundly tranquil coda, with the violin in its deepest register, subtly combines aspects of each of the two main ideas.

The opening melody of the E major finale is quintessential late Fauré in its insouciant grace, its unemphatic syncopations and its calmly repeated rhythmic patterns over a strongly defined bass. Two further ideas alternate with this melody in a rondo-like design: a broad, warmly expressive violin theme characterized by its initial falling octave, and a more reserved cantabile melody underpinned by elusive chromatic harmonies. Yet these secondary ideas always glide nonchalantly back to the opening refrain whose hushed appearance, with note-values doubled, at the centre of the movement reveal its kinship with the broad violin tune. Towards the close, Fauré introduces, deep in the bass, the sonata’s opening motif, a reminder of the work’s sombre origins. This then yields to an expanded version of the calm, lyrical idea from the first movement, which now rises to an ecstatic fervour. It is characteristic of Fauré’s whole art that these cyclic references are managed with supreme ease and naturalness, the first emerging as part of a logical growth in the music’s intensity, the second passing in a seamless texture to the rondo refrain and the radiant peroration.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 1999

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Details for CDH55030 track 6
Recording date
26 July 1987
Recording venue
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Fauré: Violin Sonatas (CDA66277)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: October 1988
    Deletion date: October 1999
    Superseded by CDH55030
  2. Fauré: Violin Sonatas (CDH55030)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: October 1999
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
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