The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Henning Kraggerud (violin)
Composer: Ysaÿe

No less an authority than Carl Flesch considered Ysaÿe the ‘most outstanding and individual violinist I have heard in my life’. By his 30s, renowned composers were virtually falling over themselves to dedicate their latest works to him, including Debussy (String Quartet), Franck (Violin Sonata) and Chausson (Poème). Ysaÿe was himself a gifted composer, notching up no fewer than eight violin concertos and a series of shorter works for violin and orchestra. Yet he seems destined to be remembered for one notoriously demanding opus: the set of six sonatas for solo violin he dedicated respectively to Szigeti, Thibaud, Enescu, Kreisler, Crickboom (a gifted pupil) and Quiroga.

These inscrutably challenging works can appear emotionally unyielding in the wrong hands (even Michael Rabin could do little with nos.3 and 4), yet Henning Kraggerud sounds positively intoxicated by their expressive unpredictability. His multiple-stopping is clean as a whistle without the slightest hint of strain, and under even the most fiendish technical pressure he retains his cantabile tonal composure. The occasionally manic references to Bach (most notably in the ‘obsessive’ opening movement of the Second Sonata) come shooting off the page, and I have never heard the moto perpetuo finale of no.4 so effortlessly negotiated nor so affectionately turned. Even the wrist-crippling acrobatics of the final Sonata are negotiated with consummate grace and ease. Alongside Zehetmair (ECM) and Kavakos (BIS), Kraggerud deserves a place at the top of anyone’s shortlist for a recording of these endlessly diverting works, especially in sound so alluringly atmospheric.