Arts & Events

Florin Parvulescu Performs Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday November 10, 2019 - 09:59:00 AM

In a fortuitous combination of events, Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3, “Ballade,” was played as an encore at San Francisco Symphony on October 4 by Maria Dueñas, and a month later Florin Parvulescu performed all six of Ysaÿe’s Sonatas for Solo Violin on Sunday, November 3, at Piedmont Center for the Arts. The former event ignited great local interest in Eugène Ysaÿe; and the latter event offered a rare opportunity to hear a live performance of all six of Ysaÿe’s notoriously difficult Sonatas for Solo Violin. At the Piedmont Center for the Arts, René Mandel's introductory remarks noted that these Ysaÿe Sonatas for Solo Violin are among the most difficult works ever written for the violin. So it was a rare treat indeed to hear them admirably performed by Florin Parvulescu. 

Born in Romania, Florin Parvulescu took up the violin at age five. He initially studied at The Geroges Enescu Music School in Bucharest. Later he attended the Juilliard School Pre-College division, then studied at Peabody Conservatory of Music. In addition to his career as a violin soloist, Parvulescu took up conducting when he studied with David Zinman and Michael Tilson Thomas at the Aspen Music Festival. In 2015 Florin Parvulescu stepped in at short notice for the ailing George Cleve to conduct a program as part of the Midsummer Mozart Festival in San Francisco. For this performance, Parvulescu received grateful praise from the San Francisco  

Chronicle, as well as from myself in these pages. 

Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931) has been hailed as one of the greatest violinists who ever lived. Born in Liege, Belgium, Ysaÿe achieved a remarkable balance between the austere style of Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) and the flashy virtuosity of Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). A friend of Claude Debussy, Ysaÿe was the dedicatee of Debussy’s String Quartet; and with the Ysaÿe Quartet he performed the world premiere in 1893 of this auspicious work by Debussy. As a teacher, Eugène Ysaÿe mentored many illustrious protegés, including Josef Gingold and Fritz Kreisler. Ysaÿe performed often in America, and in 1918 he returned to assume the post of conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which post he held until 1922. 

Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27, date from 1923. Each of the six was dedicated to a different contemporary violinist. Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 1 is dedicated to Joseph Szigeti. Inspired by Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, Ysaÿe took these famous Bach works as his starting point. Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 1, like Bach’s Sonata No. 1, is in G minor and contains four movements. The opening movement, marked Grave, gets off to a tumultuous start, played here with fervour by Florin Parvulescu. The second movement, marked Fugato, offers a jaunty rondo. The third movement offers something of a scherzo, and the Finale launches into what Parvulescu described as “a diabolical dance,” which he performed with panache. 

Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor, dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, continues the composer’s homage to Bach, as it opens with the exact opening bars of Bach’s Partita No. 1. However, Ysaÿe immediately veers into more modern territory, with considerable dissonance. This opening movement is marked Obsession; Prelude, and the second movement is marked Malinconia. The latter is a slow Siciliana. The third movement, marked Danse des Ombres; Sarabande, opens with extensive pizzicato, brilliantly performed here by Florin Parvulescu. The final movement, marked Les Furies, is extremely modern-sounding, with shrieks and wails appropriate to its namesake, the Furies.  

In his Sonata No. 3 in D minor, “Ballade,” dedicated to Georges Enescu, Ysaÿe pays allegiance not to Bach but to Debussy, as Ysaÿe adopts the nebulous tonality and augmented intervals of Debussy. Chromaticism abounds, and the harmonics are reminiscent of Debussy. Parvulescu adroitly handled all the technical difficulties of this sonata, the most frequently 

performed of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin.  

After intermission, Parvulescu returned to open the second half of the program with Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 4 in E minor, dedicated to Fritz Kreisler. In three movements, this work opens with a heroic introduction. The second movement, a Sarabande (Quasi lento), offers abundant pizzicato, admirably performed here by Florin Parvulescu. The Finale offers a gigue-like dance played vigorously by Parvulescu.  

Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 5 in G Major was a surprise highlight of the concert. Florin Parvulescu introduced it as “pastoral;” and its two movements were indeed pastoral, with evocations of nature in a manner reminiscent of Debussy. The opening movement, marked L’Aurore/Dawn, begins softly, with pizzicato punctuation after each lyrical passage. One gradually gets a sense of the sun rising above the eastern horizon. The second and final movement is a Dance Rustique, set in 5/4 time. Pizzicato punctuates this rustic dance towards the end of this work. 

Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 6 in E Major is dedicated to Spanish violinist Manuel Quiroga. It is in one movement with two sections. The opening, as Parvulescu aptly described it, is a tour de force. Then, perhaps in homage to the Spanish roots of his dedicatee, Ysaÿe offers a habanera. Florin Parvulescu brought this last of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin to a close with a flourish. Throughout this concert of technically difficult works, Florin Parvulescu performed with impeccable technique as well as heartfelt involvement with music he clearly loves. As an encore, 

Parvulescu invited his friend and fellow violinist René Mandel to join him in playing a movement from a sonata by 18th century French composer Jean-Marie Leclerc.