Ingolfsson and Stoupel Play 20th Century Sonatas

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POULENC: Violin Sonata. FERROUD: Violin Sonata. RAVEL: Violin Sonata No. 2 / Judith Ingolfsson, vln; Vladimir Stoupel, pn / Accentus Music ACC30436

Violinist Judith Ingolfsson and pianist Vladimir Stoupel are co-directors of the Aigues-Vives en Musiques festival in southern France and “The Last Rose of Summer” festival in Berlin’s Mendelssohn-Remise, but here they are immersed in strictly French sonatas of the first half of the 20th century.

We begin with the latest of the three, Polenc’s 1943 Violin Sonata, premiered by Ginette Neveu with the composer at the piano. Neveu shot to stardom while still quite young in 1935 by winning the first Wieniawski Violin Competition, where she beat out David Oistrakh (second place), Henri Temianka (third place) and Ida Haendel (seventh place), three others who went on to become noted violinists. Knowing Niveau’s playing style from a few of her recordings, very heartfelt as a rule but not generally “driving” or “edgy,” I was a bit surprised to hear the duo’s interpretation of this work which emphasized the excitement of the piece. In the slow section of the first movement, Ingolfsson eases up on the tension and plays with a nice, light vibrato and lovely phrasing, but her emotional involvement is reserved for the fast passages, played with a wonderfully bright, edgy tone and spot-on technique. Stoupel, whose playing I am familiar with from other recordings, is fully engaged as her partner throughout.

In the slow second movement Ingolfsson sounds warm and relaxed, justnot quite as warm as Neveu usually did. Both musicians, however, are fully involved in the driving finale, which Poulenc surprisingly revised after Neveu’s death in a plane crash in 1949.

The odd composer out for me in this recital is Pierre-Octave Ferroud (1900-1936). Born in Rhone, he studied music with Georges Martin Witkowski and for a time assisted fellow-composer Florent Schmitt. Along with Henri Barraud and Emmanuel Bondeville he founded the modern music society Le Triton in 1932. Prokofiev praised his Symphony in A in a letter to Boris Asafiev. Tragically, Ferroud died in an auto accident in which he was decapitated. His music is very busy, almost Hindemith-like in its melodic and harmonic contours without being a copy. Ferroud once stated that his objective was to write “music without redundancy or flaw, music that is strong, healthy, optimistic, music that moves forward.” If this sonata is typical of his work, he surely succeeded. Poulenc, who was one of those in his musical circle (along with Casella, Enescu, Schmitt, Roussel and de Falla, was reportedly devastated by his unexpected death.

Ferroud’s violin sonata is indeed healthy, unredundant music, using frequent harmonic shifts via his changing of chord positions, although the second movement’s somewhat mysterious mood departs from his stated goal of optimism. This is, however, a great piece, beautifully constructed and well played by the duo. Simply by playing the second movement with calmness and a pure legato, Ingolfsson is able to bring out the melos of the music without having to be emotionally attached to it. The brilliant third movement is right up Ingolfsson’s alley, and she plays with with bracing rhythm and strong character. Stoupel is also outstanding in his playing as well.

In the Ravel sonata, unfortunately, Ingolfsson is up against a style of music for which she has no affinity. This sonata is in general, and specifically in the first two movements, a jazz-influenced work. Ursula Schoch understood this completely in her superb performance of it on her Jazzettes album (see my review here), but Ingolfsson plays it like a straight French sonata and thus loses connection with the jazz side. It’s a bit like playing the violin music of Enescu and leaving out the Rumanian Gypsy flavor; it just doesn’t sound right. And, sadly, neither performer really knows how to play the second-movement “Blues,” despite Ingolfsson’s attempt at a jazzy portamento. which comes off sounding a bit artificial. Listen to the way she plays the pizzicato passages: they’re stiff as a board, lacking any suggestion of swing. Interestingly, Stoupel seems to catch the right vibe for the finale, but Ingolfsson plays metronomically.

Overall, then, a good recital, particularly in their performance of the Ferroud work, that just doesn’t quite work in the Ravel.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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