Thursday, 29 August 2019

CD Review (The Straits Times, August 2019)

ION VOICU The Decca Recordings
Decca Eloquence 480 7841 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

Those who tuned in to Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s 92.4FM stereo classical station during the 1970-1980s might remember the name of Romanian violinist Ion Voicu (1923-1997), whose long-playing records were aired in those more interesting and eclectic days of radio. This album brings together the contents of three LPs dating from 1965 to 1973, never previously issued on CD.

Voicu was born into the Romani tradition of violin playing, and was a student of Georges Enesco and later David Oistrakh. This pedigree would account for his playing of refinement and understated virtuosity, which shuns faceless surface glitz and vulgarity. 

The album’s first disc coupling the popular Mendelssohn (E minor) and Bruch (No.1) violin concertos is enjoyable for its directness and simplicity of approach. He is partnered with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Fr├╝hbeck de Burgos.

20th century violin sonatas make up the balance of the 150 minutes, all of which are tuneful and accessible. With French pianist Monique Haas, Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 (originally for flute) and Debussy’s late Sonata make for fascinating contrasts. The Second Violin Sonata by Darius Milhaud is a delightful rarity, with folk music influences and pentatonic melodies that remind one of Chinese music.

The third album includes a thrilling reading of Ysaye’s unaccompanied Sonata No.5, and has  Romanian pianist Victoria Stefanescu accompanying him in the Second Sonatas of Ravel and Enesco. The Ravel is famous for its Blues second movement (where violin mimics banjo), while the slightly more dissonant and darkly-hued Enesco is a real find. Here is a showcase of violin playing of true distinction.

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