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February 13, 2011

Oscar Shumsky - Eugène Ysaÿe: 6 Sonatas for Solo Violin



Another solo violin masterpiece! Just as good as Andrew Manze playing Tartini, but in a totally different way. It gets back into a corner and stares you in the eye like it will kill you, and then it takes off on unexpectedly gracious flights of fancy through the starbound firmament, only to return, perching on your rooftop, peering back at you expectantly. This music is ruthless in its beauty. It takes no prisoners, and will settle for nothing less than its ultimate prize: structured emptiness. Because that is what you are left with after listening to the 6 sonatas here - you are left with a very neat and tidy chest of lost memories and hungry ghosts. And with the sense that the violin is a white monster on the prowl, keeping just outside the confines of your ears' horizon.




Eugène Ysaÿe - Biography
by Edward Moore
Eugène Ysaÿe was one of the greatest violinists who ever lived. He coupled beauty of tone and remarkable technical ability with a depth of musical expression that few violinists before or since can be said to have equalled, or even approached. Ysaÿe succeeded in breathing new life into an art that had become polarized by two divergent styles and personalities: the austere temperament of Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), and the flashy virtuosity of Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). Ysaÿe achieved a grand synthesis of these two approaches by imbuing the "serious" music of Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven, so dear to Joachim, with the flashy yet never superficial brilliance that Sarasate had been wont to apply to "lesser" works in the repertoire. Ysaÿe became the leading violinist of his time, spawning many illustrious pupils and proteges, among them Josef Gingold and Fritz Kreisler. Ysaÿe was also an accomplished composer, whose Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Opus 27 (1924) are recognized masterpieces of the genre.

Eugène Ysaÿe was born on July 16, 1858 in Liege, Belgium. He received his first violin lessons from his father when he was five years old. After this he studied with Rodolphe Massart, making his first public appearance at age seven. Ysaÿe was not, however, a prodigy; he was later kicked out of the Liege Conservatory due to poor performance! But he persisted, and went on to study with the famous violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-80) with whom he made considerable progress; he was soon accepted as a student by the legendary Belgian violinist-composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-81).

In 1879, Ysaÿe made the acquaintance of Joseph Joachim, and performed with Clara Schumann. He soon began touring, visiting Norway in 1881, and playing at the Paris Conservatory in 1883. In Paris, he befriended the composer Cesar Franck, who wrote his beautiful Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major (1886) as a wedding present for Ysaÿe. This work soon became a signature piece for the violinist, who stamped it with his own inimitable style.

During this period, Ysaÿe founded the Concerts in Brussels that bore his name, as well as his own string quartet, which included his pupil Mathieu Crickboom, to whom Ysaÿe later dedicated the fifth of his Six Sonatas for Solo Violin. This ensemble premiered Claude Debussy's String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 10 in 1893. A year later Ysaÿe made his first appearance in America, where he met with tremendous sucess, finally returning in 1918 to take over the post of conductor for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra which he held until 1922.

After his retirement from conducting, Ysaÿe devoted himself fully to composing, and the teaching of a select group of pupils, including Josef Gingold, who later went on to achieve international fame. By this time, Ysaÿe's performance technique had declined, due to a rapid deterioration of his right-arm stability -- a condition known to violinists as "bow tremor." This was probably the result of diabetes, with which he had been struggling for some time. Despite the fact that his performance career lasted for only 25 years, Ysaÿe exercised a tremendous influence on violinsts -- an influence still being felt today. His personal aura and grand musical sensibility were only two aspects of a complex personality that not only "played" but also lived the music he held dear. He was an authentic performer, an artist of immense stature and unmatched musical ability. Eugène Ysaÿe died on May 12, 1931, at the age of 72.



6 Sonatas for Solo Violin: Compostition Description
by Joseph Stevenson
Despite the fact that Ysaÿe had no formal training as a composer, his works are not only masterfully crafted, demonstrating various dimensions of violinistic expressiveness and sonority, but also provide the listener with a remarkable aesthetic experience. As a peerless virtuoso, Ysaÿe writes with a profound understanding of the violin's soul; as a performer deeply immersed in the music of his time, he evinces a familiarity with many styles; yet Ysaÿe's music, despite many recognizable echoes of other composers, clearly exhibits an unmistakable artistic individuality.

Inspired by a Bach recital by Joseph Szigeti, Ysaÿe's outlined these six sonatas in a day. The six works are dedicated to, respectively, Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom (a member of the Ysaÿe Quartet), and Manuel Quiroga. Because each sonata is dedicated to a violinist, or, in some cases, a violinist-composer, every work has a distinct individuality. For example, Sonata No. 6 has a subtle, but unmistakable, Iberian flavor. Predictably, the sonata dedicated to George Enescu conjures up a truly Central European atmosphere. Like Fritz Kreisler, Ysaÿe in Sonata No. 4 re-creates the Baroque style with remarkable charm; this is a Baroque, or quasi-Baroque, sound which seduces the listener by its unpretentious spontaneity and freshness. Significantly, while exploring a variety of musical styles, Ysaÿe never lapses into sterile eclecticism; after all, these works are marked by his powerful individuality. Underlying his tasteful stylistic explorations is Ysaÿe's boundless interest in, and fascination by, his instrument. Containing an array of extreme, even breathtaking, technical challenges, these sonatas also explore the rich sonorities of the violin, with particular emphasis on original, and perhaps surprising, harmonic effects.




Oscar Shumsky - Biography
by Blair Johnston
There must have been something special in American water during the 1910s, something that allowed an unusual number of the children born during the decade to develop into violin prodigies of extraordinary gifts: Yehudi Menuhin and Ruggiero Ricci come straight to mind, and of course Isaac Stern (who was not really a prodigy as such, but why quibble?), and then, a minute later, the lesser-known but equally-brilliant Oscar Shumsky, born in 1917 and active as a performer all the way up into the 1990s. With this group of young American violinists, the North America made its first true bid for musical equality with the First World. When Shumsky passed on in July 2000, one of the last remaining links (they are growing ever more precious) to a beautiful bygone era was lost -- but not, thanks to modern recording technology and a class of distinguished pupils, forgotten.

Shumsky was born in Philadelphia, PA, to a Russian immigrant family on March 23, 1917. Early lessons on the violin were fully absorbed, and, at Leopold Stokowski's invitation, Shumsky appeared as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Josef Suk's Fantasy for violin and orchestra (or, according to alternate accounts, in Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5!) at the tender age of 8. During the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, Shumsky studied with a pair of the finest teachers in the world: Leopold Auer (teacher of, among other distinguished pupils, the great Jascha Heifetz) and Efrem Zimbalist (a great violinist, who is nevertheless better known today as the father of the Hollywood personage by the same name). Shumsky joined Toscanini's NBC Orchestra just before the outbreak of World War II and stayed with it for about three years, all the while working to build a solo career and also playing with the Primrose String Quartet. He taught at one time or another at many schools, including the Peabody Conservatory, the Juilliard School, and the Curtis Institute. In the 1950s he began adding appearances as a conductor to his résumé. His solo career was not a particularly steady one -- he all but ceased giving concerts in the 1950s and only took up an active schedule again when he was in his sixties!

Shumsky's playing was distinguished by a velvety sonority (partly the product of the fine 1715 Stradivarius violin, the "ex-Rode," that he usually played) that nevertheless was wholly capable of steel-rimmed force when need be, and also by a refinement of manner that, while doing little to make his name one widely known to the general public, endeared him to serious music lovers around the world. Of his many recordings, the complete set of Mozart violin sonatas that he made with Artur Balsam is of special value.


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Oscar Shumsky - Eugène Ysaÿe: 6 Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27

Year: 1992
Label: Nimbus



Oscar Schumsky was a master of this legendary instrument. The musical world was well aware his virtues as interpreter and pedagogue. But for better or worst, just a few soloists have kept into account the transcendental importance of these sonatas into the literature for violin solo. As far I remember, Ruggiero Ricci was captured and seduced by these pages (as matter of fact the CD has not been released yet, uniquely available on LP format on the label Candide). 


But when Schumsky decided to be part of this excel minority of notable violinists, probably he was not aware he was writing with golden letters, a glorious incursion to the immortality with these magisterial performances. 


Until this date no other soloist has been able to approach respect this sublime performance. 


A desert island issue, inch by inch.



Tracks:
1. Sonata for violin solo No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27/1: Grave
2. Sonata for violin solo No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27/1: Fugato
3. Sonata for violin solo No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27/1: Allegretto poco scherzoso
4. Sonata for violin solo No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27/1: Finale con brio
5. Sonata for violin solo No. 2 in A minor ('Obsession'), Op. 27/2: Obesession: Prelude
6. Sonata for violin solo No. 2 in A minor ('Obsession'), Op. 27/2: Malinconia
7. Sonata for violin solo No. 2 in A minor ('Obsession'), Op. 27/2: Danse des Ombres: Sarabande
8. Sonata for violin solo No. 2 in A minor ('Obsession'), Op. 27/2: Les Furies
9. Sonata for violin solo No. 3 in D minor ('Ballade'), Op. 27/3
10. Sonata for solo violin No. 4 in E minor (dedicated to F. Kreisler), Op. 27/4: Allemanda
11. Sonata for solo violin No. 4 in E minor (dedicated to F. Kreisler), Op. 27/4: Sarabanda
12. Sonata for solo violin No. 4 in E minor (dedicated to F. Kreisler), Op. 27/4: Finale
13. Sonata for violin solo No. 5 in G major ('Pastorale'), Op. 27/5: L'Aurore
14. Sonata for violin solo No. 5 in G major ('Pastorale'), Op. 27/5: Danse Rustique
15. Sonata for violin solo No. 6, Op. 27/6

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