The Strad Issue: January 2011
Musicians: Samika Honda (violin)
Composer: Ysaÿe

The set of six solo Sonatas op.27 is the only work of Ysaÿe’s to have won a place in the regular performing repertoire. The first four are dedicated to legendary colleagues – Szigeti, Thibaud, Enescu and Kreisler, no less – while the final pair were written for two relative unknowns, Matthieu Crickboom and Manuel Quiroga.

Away from her regular solo work, Japanese violinist Samika Honda leads both the Isé Quartet and the Monsolo Quintet, and it is the chamber-scale sensitivity and poetry of her playing that impresses most here. While in no way undermining the structural integrity of no.1, she brings its fugue stunningly to life with a compelling interpretative whimsy. Her sense of fantasy and ability to impart a convincing emotional narrative to these highly complex scores extends even to her reordering of the set, opening with no.6 (in one movement) as the perfect curtain-raiser, and closing with no.1, which in context feels like an accumulation of everything preceding it. Far from making the wrist-crippling pyrotechnics into the music’s raison d’être, each fizzing outburst feels like the natural outcome of its internal impulses.

Honda’s alluring sonority, captivating dynamic range and unusually flexible phrasing, all glowingly captured by the Polymnie team, combine to create one of the finest versions yet to appear of these endlessly fascinating scores.