Ysaÿe Légende norvégienne Simax

Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)
Légende norvégienne: Unknown works and arrangements for violin and piano
Tor Johan Bøen (violin)
Eirik Haug Stømner (piano)
rec. 2022, Sofienberg Kirke
Simax PSC1374 [2 CDs: 149]

There’s always more to learn about the protean figure of Eugène Ysaÿe. However, apart from the solo Sonatas and some other works, much remains to be discovered, as this twofer from Simax shows. Numerous premiere recordings litter the release like so much confetti. Given that many are derived from editions made by the violinist on the disc, Tor Johan Bøen, what precisely are we listening to? 

The answer to that is principally pieces that come from early in his career, which he wrote on tour such as Légende norvégienne (which lends its name to Simax’s title), or else genre morceau, or adaptations of pre-existing pieces for violin, like the long sequence of Chopin’s Waltzes which occupied him from 1912-26. The Norwegian tribute opens in fine style with a virtuoso cadential passage and has strong, vivid themes followed by a fresh Allegro con fuoco where silky passagework and lilting melodic charm ensures that nothing outstays its welcome. Tor Johan Bøen and Eirik Haug Stømner are rather more athletically inclined than Kerson Leong (violin) and Jonathan Fournel (piano) in a 5-CD miscellaneous box from Fuga Libera (review). 

One of the problems with Ysaÿe is that he left indications as to potential orchestrations of his violin-and-piano music, so it is possible, sometimes, to attempt a reconstruction. That’s not the case here. There is a long sequence of genre pieces from 1881-82 designed, presumably, for himself to play, concert waltzes and Polonaises cut from conventional cloth reminiscent of Wieniawski (his teacher), but without Wieniawski’s panache or personality. There’s a lot of angular figuration in the Première Polonaise as well as a nice tune and plenty of virtuosity, which elevates it above the smaller, somewhat more conventional, salon-inclined neighbouring pieces, such as the Scène sentimentale (Sérénité), for instance.

One piece that has been recorded before is Scénes Sentimentales: No. 5, a genuine charmer that moves from palm tree and antimacassar to foreground some virile extroversion. It’s played splendidly here. In 1900 he wrote three Études-Poèmes of which No.3 is by a significant way the longest, an increasingly turbulent work with vigorous passagework ending in a Funeral March; an Études-Poème, yes, but with something of the tone poem about it. The remainder of the programme is Chopin in violinistic adaptation. The Ballade No.1 has been recorded before and is expressively done whilst Ysaÿe never completed the adaptation of the Fantaisie-Impromptu, a job that’s been completed by Bøen. The series of Waltzes, of which five of the eight are here receiving their premiere recordings, are pretty straightforward and, frankly, not that interesting. No.5’s piano part has been lost so the violinist has fashioned a replacement.  

Finely recorded and with necessarily detailed booklet notes by Bøen, this is a niche acquisition because of the obscurity and adaptive nature of so many of the works. However, even Ysaÿe collectors will find things new to them in the stylish recital in which pianist Eirik Haug Stømner plays his full part.

Jonathan Woolf   

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Légende norvégienne pour violon et piano (1882)
Mazurka de concert, Op. 1 (1882)
Grand Valse, Op. 3 (c.1882)
Première Polonaise (1881)
Scène sentimentale (Sérénité) (c.1885)
Scénes Sentimentales: No. 5. Moderato (1885)
Polonaise Brilliante (1885)
Three Études-Poèmes (1900)
Petite fantaisie Romantique (1901)
Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, adaptation for violin by Eugène Ysaÿe (1916)
Chopin: Impromptu No. 4 in C sharp minor, Op. 66 ‘Fantaisie-Impromptu’ adaptation for violin by Eugène Ysaÿe (1916)
8 Valses de F. Chopin adaptation for violin by Eugène Ysaÿe (1912-26)