It may seem eccentric to open a CD review by discussing its booklet essay, but Tasmin Little has taken great care in choosing a writer to provide background for her new album of French violin sonatas.

Roger Nichols is an acknowledged expert on French music.

He balances scholarship and communication; the perfect combination to illuminate art that puts such priority on giving pleasure.

His notes on the three chosen sonatas, by Faure, Lekeu and Ravel, have an elegance that is essentially Gallic, with a few wry observations on the side.


Faure's 1876 Sonata might have Brahmsian elements, but Nichols points out that it would be two years before the German wrote his first violin sonata; with Lekeu, we learn how the 19-year-old composer fainted at Bayreuth after hearing the Tristan Prelude.

Nichols does not emphasise the fact that all three pieces are the work of young composers, tragically so in the case of Guillaume Lekeu whose sonata dates from 1893, a year before he died at the age of 24.

Little, together with pianist Martin Roscoe, opens the set with this piece, its restless textures offering limitless scope for the intense emotional engagement that we so value in these musicians.

The slow movement, substantially in 7/4, is a beautifully drawn-out song; as often happens on this disc, you find yourself craning forward to enjoy the very physical sound of bow on string.

The volatile moods of Lekeu's Finale are brilliantly charted. It is years now since Little charmed us with Ravel's 1927 sonata, in a delightfully jazzy partnership with Australian pianist Piers Lane.

The Ravel is an early work. The 22-year-old composer is content to look backwards and the musicians enjoy the uninhibited lushness of it all, lovingly caught by producer Rachel Smith.

The Faure sonata looks back too; in fact, Roscoe's surging introduction reminds me of the pianist's fine Auckland recital in 2007. Finely-tuned teamwork makes for riveting listening, whether travelling through the shifting moods of the andante or riding the helter-skelter of Faure's scherzo.

French Violin Sonatas (Chandos)


French sonatas glow with the energy and impetuousness of youth.