Ernest Chausson’s death in 1899 in a bicycle accident robbed French music of a major talent. Almost his entire orchestral output fits on this extremely fine CD. Yan Pascal Tortelier’s performance of the richly romantic Symphony is the best since Munch’s Boston Symphony recording. Like Munch, Tortelier knows how to keep the music moving along–he’s only an insignificant two minutes slower than Munch for the whole work–without overindulging the more luscious moments, which in Chausson’s opulent setting really do take care of themselves. Even better, rather than some overplayed encore piece by another composer, the symphony is coupled with two very attractive, rarely heard tone poems and two charming orchestral excerpts from the composer’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The orchestra plays with conviction, Chandos’ sonics are gorgeous, and if you don’t buy this disc, you’re missing out on some marvelous stuff.
Within 24 hours of hearing the violinist Joseph Szigeti playing Bach, Ysaÿe had made sketches for his own six solo Violin Sonatas, which constitute his single most substantial and remarkable work, drawing together influences as diverse as Gregorian chant, Spanish and Walloon folk music, French impressionism and, of course, Bach himself. These are virtuoso showpieces, but, as Philippe Graffin demonstrates, there is much in them that is yielding and gentle, such as the stately Sarabandes fromthe Second and Fourth Sonatas (the latter is dedicated to Fritz Kreisler) and the radiant evocation of dawn in the Fifth Sonata. Graffin adroitly negotiates these technical and expressive demands, and if there is an occasional lapse in clarity, it is compensated for by a compelling vitality.