Fanny Clamagirand / Vanya Cohen

Saint-Saëns: Violin Sonata No. 2; Suite in D minor; The Swan

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Much of the music here would have been more familiar 75 years ago than it is today; Jascha Heifetz, in particular, championed the Saint-Saëns violin sonatas. But now that self-serving ideas of straight-line musical progress have been put to rest, Saint-Saëns is benefiting from something of a comeback, with the Naxos label and others putting out intelligently programmed selections of his music. This one, by French violinist Fanny Clamagirand and pianist Vanya Cohen, is delightful. It features a performance of the Violin Sonata No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 102, overflowing with melody in the slow movement, as well as some even less familiar music. The opening Suite in D minor for violin and piano, Op. 16, is fascinating. Composed in 1862, it represents Saint-Saëns take on the Baroque suite, and one might even say the French neo-classicism began here. There is also a violin sonata Saint-Saëns wrote at the age of 13, a chamring piece of juvenilia, and two short works in contrasting modes, a Romance in C major, Op. 48, on the melodic side and a Méditation in quasi-operatic mode. The only really famous tune here is the arrangement for violin and piano of Le Cygne (The Swan), from The Carnival of the Animals; it serves as a kind of encore. As she did on her earlier recording of Saint-Saëns' chamber music, Clamagirand cultivates a lyrical attitude and a gorgeous tone that are the essence of the French school. Naxos deserves kudos for the sound this time out; the music is recorded in a superb (and non-French) venue, the UK's Wyastone Concert Hall, and the performers are up close but not overbearing.

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