Philippe Graffin explores how to create an orchestra of abstract colours and characters in the first movement of the French composer’s last chamber work
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Although Ravel wrote this Sonata for his great friend and unrequited love, the French violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, it was Enescu who gave its premiere. As a child, Yehudi Menuhin studied with Enescu in Paris, and he once told me that Ravel turned up unannounced to one of his lessons, to ask Enescu to play this new Violin Sonata to his publisher. Enescu sightread through it in front of Menuhin, then closed the music and played the whole piece again by heart!
I find it fascinating how Ravel uses the relationship between the violin and the piano in this work. It’s very modern for its time, far from the idea of the Franck Sonata, where the piano accompanies as the violin sails through. Violinist Renaud Capuçon recently commissioned a very good orchestration of it by Yan Maresz, which makes interesting listening. It conjures the sound world that Ravel might have had in his head when he wrote it, and helps us to share in that world in our imagination.
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