Janine Jansen: Beau Soir (CD review)

Janine Jansen, violin; Itamar Golan, piano. Decca B0015249-02.

You'll forgive me, I hope, if I sometimes confuse violinist Janine Jansen with violinist Hilary Hahn. They are both about the same age, both burst upon the musical scene at about the same time, and both possess about the same prodigious talent. I mention this because I hope they never consider themselves rivals; there is always more than enough room for many more such superb musicians.

Anyway, on this recital album, Beau Soir ("Beautiful Evening"), Ms. Jansen takes us through a program of ten selections of French music, three of them world premieres, which the back cover describes as "leading us from dusk into evening and finally a moonlit night."

The recital begins with Claude Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor (1917), a piece in three movements for violin and piano. It's an appropriate opening number because it sets the tone for the delicate colors and expressive harmonies to come. Ms. Jansen and pianist Itamar Golan present the work in both a dreamily exotic manner and a variably atmospheric one. With these performers the music sounds almost improvisational, the mood swings coming quickly, frequently, and seemingly instinctively.

Next, we have "Beau Soir" (c 1883), which gives the album its name. Debussy wrote it as an art song, and Jascha Heifetz subsequently arranged it for violin and piano. It's concise and poetic, with a beautifully fluid lyricism. Following this, we get a transcription of Debussy's popular Clair de lune (1905) from his Suite bergamasque for piano. Ms. Jansen maintains a gentle, graceful touch throughout, making the music more poignant than ever.

Moving along, we hear La Minute exquise, the first of three première pieces on the disc by French composer Richard Dubugnon (b. 1968). The other works by him are Hypnos and Retour a Montfort-l'Amaury, all three of them appearing to show the influence of Ravel and Debussy and reflecting brief, flowing, intertwining melodies of charming eloquence.

The other pieces by such familiar names as Gabriel Faure, Olivier Messiaen, Lili Boulanger, and Maurice Ravel (whose Violin Sonata in G major is the most unusual work on the program for its jazz impressions) exhibit a similar Gallic flavor, with representative themes clearly etched.  Most important, Jansen and Golan are always in complete sympathy with one another, the playing light and ethereal without ever being in any way flimsy or inconsequential.

Decca recorded the album at Teldex Studio, Berlin, in May of 2010. The sound they obtain is fairly close yet warm, slightly soft, and comfortable. Although I would have preferred a touch more air and definition, it certainly fits the music involved. The sound can also be quite dynamic at times and show off the rich, mellow quality of the "Barrere" Stradivari Ms. Jansen plays.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa