The Strad Issue: January 2017
Description: Breathtaking performances of classics from the French repertoire
Musicians: Christian Svarfvar (violin) Roland Pöntinen (piano)
Composer: Debussy, Fauré, Ravel
Catalogue number: BIS 2183 (SACD)

A dream programme: Fauré’s glorious A major Sonata (alongside the Morceau de lecture and Casals’s arrangement of ‘Après un rêve’) is counterbalanced perfectly by Ravel’s late G major Sonata and the ravishing Berceuse sur le nom de Fauré and Pièce en forme de habanera, with two Debussy arrangements (‘Minstrels’ and ‘Beau soir’) included for good measure. Christian Svarfvar and Roland Pöntinen respond with playing of finesse and sensitivity, with Svarfvar’s J.&A. Gagliano violin providing the perfect sound world – warm, intimate, tonally ravishing – in a radiant acoustic that, when the SACD layer is deployed, surrounds the listener in a sonic cocoon.

There are times, as in the Ravel Berceuse, when Svarfvar creates the magical impression of activating his instrument by breathing over the strings rather than bowing in the traditional manner, and in the opening movement of the 1927 Sonata he floats Ravel’s golden inspiration with such a poetic intimacy and tantalising quiescence

as to have the listener hanging on his every phrase. The Fauré Sonata (complete with exposition repeat) is often projected as though it were Parisian Brahms, but Svarfvar keeps everything perfectly in scale, so that when he soars aloft rejoicingly into the opening Allegro’s recapitulation the effect is almost overwhelming.

He could hardly wish for a more responsive partner than Pöntinen, whose effortless negotiation of some extremely tricky writing along the way is a source of pleasure in itself. An outstanding release.

Julian Haylock