courtesy of Universal Music Group
This coming Friday, ECM New Series will release its third recording by the Italian sisters Natascia Gazzana (violin) and Raffaella Gazzana (piano), who perform under the name (you guessed it) Duo Gazzana. I was first drawn to them through their debut album, released in November of 2011, which included selections by Toru Takemitsu and Valentin Silvestrov, whose music was again featured on their second album, released in April of 2014. The new album, on the other hand, reaches back to César Franck, whose sonata for violin and piano is complemented by early works by Maurice Ravel, Olivier Messiaen, and György Ligeti. As usual, the album is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.
The Ligeti selection is the shortest on the album, only a few seconds more than three minutes. The composer dedicated the piece to his good friend György Kurtág, who probably commands the most stunning capacity for expressiveness through brevity this side of Anton Webern. Ligeti’s duo, written when he was only 23 years old, offers an affectionate account of what Ligeti was doing before coming up with the tightly-knit sonorities we now associate with the “Ligeti sound.”
Ligeti’s age sets the benchmark for the other early works on the album. Ravel was only 22 when he composed his first duo for violin and piano, a single-movement sonata, which was never published during his lifetime. Indeed, it remained unpublished until 1975. In this case one has a sense of Ravel just beginning to emerge with a recognizable style, but one can also appreciate why he may have decided to keep the manuscript to himself. The Messiaen selection is the set of variations on a theme, which he composed at the age of 24. It is again easily recognized as an early work, but the composer was never shy about allowing others to perform it.
The Franck sonata, on the other hand, is the duo’s first significant venture into warhorse territory. By the time Ravel entered the Conservatoire de Paris, Franck was a figure of the distant past. A new generation was on the rise, probably best recognized in the figure of Claude Debussy; and the “old-timer” providing encouragement was Gabriel Fauré. Taken on its own terms, however, Franck’s sonata is as relevant to contemporary thinking about chamber music as is Fauré’s repertoire. (Some have even suggested that Franck was the spirit behind the sonata composed by Marcel Proust’s fictitious Vinteuil.) The Gazzana sisters give the Franck sonata a loving account that honors both the composer’s departures from past structural conventions and the overt expressiveness of his thematic lexicon.
It would probably be an exaggeration to call the Franck sonata the keystone that supports the other selections on this album, but it definitely provides a valuable context for listening to the early efforts of the other three composers included.