Ysaÿe’s is an art of memory in its broadest sense. And of memorialisation. As the Belgian composer and violinist recognises in his debt to JS Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas, and to hearing Joseph Szigeti perform Bach’s G Minor Sonata – the inspiration for Ysaÿe’s own essays in the genre, the first one of which – in G Minor, of course – was dedicated to Szigeti.
This first of the six that form Ysaÿe’s Opus 27, each dedicated to different performers, is appropriately arresting; the first movement even tormented, the following movements Bachian, yet redolent of the music Ysaÿe knew and loved. The Second in A Minor, for Jacques Thibaud, is even more explicitly Bachian, riffing on that composer’s E Major Prelude. It is also entitled “Obsession”. Say no more. This sonata, like the Fourth for Fritz Kreisler, features a Sarabande first played entirely pizzicato, lute-like, before the bow returns. Between is the one-movement Sonata in D Minor for George Enescu, brilliant, expressive, prone to mood swings, while the Fifth in G for Mathieu Crickboom and the joyful Sixth in E for Manuel Quiroga set dances of different national and notional colours against each other.
There are many fine recordings of these endlessly fascinating works; one of my favourites is Alina Ibragimova’s for Hyperion. Ksenia Milas’ playing has much in common with the former’s while conveying slightly more warmth and earthiness. Highly recommended.