Rachel Kolly d'Alba

Passion Ysaÿe

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This is over the top, in your face, and probably ahead of the curve in terms of its use of engineering as an integral part of the total effect. The Six Sonatas for solo violin, Op. 27, of Eugène Ysaÿe are arguably the most difficult music ever written in this medium; their only rivals are the pieces Paganini wrote for his own use, but there's an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stylistic quality that has no counterpart in Paganini. Compromises must be made in playing these sonatas, and Rachel Kolly d'Alba, a young Swiss violinist, makes them in the direction of forward motion, intensity, and volume even if details are lost along the way. Despite the quotation from Bach's Partita No. 3 for solo violin in E major, BWV 1006, at the beginning of the Sonata No. 2 in A minor (in a movement titled "Obsession"), Ysaÿe's sonatas do not refer back to Bach's the way various sets of piano works down through the years have evoked the memory of Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier. Indeed, the Bach theme almost immediately disappears -- in Kolly d'Alba's hands it runs startlingly out of gas -- to be replaced in due time by the Dies Irae. The interest of these works lies in the combination of these historical references with the most extreme virtuosity; there is no trick in the violinist's bag that is left untapped. Kolly d'Alba, at a recording venue designated by the Warner Classics and Jazz label only as "Switzerland, August 2008," is miked extremely close up, with all of her struggles with and triumphs over the work on full view. It's an extreme, impetuous performance of the ultimate in virtuoso violin music, and it's not every such recording that gets blurbed by the grandson of the original composer and player, Jacques Ysaÿe (parenthetically the composer of the "Brass Bonanza" theme of the onetime Hartford Whalers professional hockey team); he writes that he's been listening to Kolly d'Alba's recording "in ecstasy," and you may well do the same.

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