The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Warmly rounded accounts of two Romantic violin sonatas
Musicians: Catherine Manoukian (violin) Xiayin Wang (piano)
Composer: Strauss, Franck

The raw-edged, fresh tone of Canadian-born, former Dorothy DeLay pupil Catherine Manoukian suits the tempestuous Romanticism of these sonatas by Strauss and Franck, and in Xiayin Wang she has a suitably sympathetic partner. The opening Allegro of the Strauss is gorgeously rich and full-voiced, though the central Improvisation – Andante cantabile occasionally suffers from dips in momentum, where the players do not achieve the intensity of expression that would carry these introspective deliberations forward. However, with the exuberant allegro finale the pair are on surer footing, Manoukian singing out Strauss’s tender and beautiful melodies and Xiayin Wang providing impeccably transparent support.

Manoukian, now 30, apparently took the opportunity in her teens to perform Franck’s sonata at the Parisian church where the composer was once organist, on a violin that had belonged to Ysaÿe. In this recording she certainly makes Franck’s lovely lines speak, her judicious and thoughtful use of portamentos adding to the expressive eloquence throughout, and Xiayin Wang employs a perfectly judged rubato in the moments where the piano is allowed soloistic space. Phrasing flows here, and each new outpouring is made to count. Technically the pair are totally assured, never putting a fleet finger wrong. The violin is pleasantly high in the mix, never clouded by the piano, and the recorded sound has a satisfying freshness.

Catherine Nelson