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By Rob Cowan, Gramophone Magazine
The brilliant Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan treats us to yet another superb set of the Ysaÿe Solo Sonatas, vibrant, forceful, technically unsullied and played on Ysaÿe’s superb 1740 Guarneri del Gesù violin, which Khachatryan played from October 2010 to May 2022 (and which Isaac Stern played before him). Khachatryan focuses on the personalised character of each piece (dedicated to a different star violinist) much as Hilary Hahn does on her superb DG recording (Recording of the Month last August). Both deliver with maximum intensity but there are some significant differences, too. In the opening ‘Obsession’ movement of the Second Sonata – for Jacques Thibaud and based on the Prelude to Bach’s Third Solo Sonata – Khachatryan fires away at a faster tempo than does Hahn, affecting more of a swagger in the vehement response (which commandeers the ‘Dies irae’ motif). Khachatryan is slower, more doleful than Hahn in the ‘Malinconia’ second movement and opts for a razor-sharp attack in the Sonata’s ‘Les furies’ finale. Hahn comes close but is less audaciously confrontational.
Both throw themselves at the Korngoldian ‘Ballade’ Third Sonata (for Enescu) but it’s Khachatryan who summons the more inclement emotional climate, at a marginally slower pace. The expansive ‘L’Aurore’ movement that opens the Fifth Sonata (for Mathieu Crickboom) draws a more vibrantly shaded performance from Hahn, who infuses the music with shapely phrasing and imaginative colouring. And so these two wonderful violinists hop on and off swings and roundabouts throughout the cycle but I’m at a loss as to which version I prefer. Both seem to me leaders in a recently crowded field.
If you’ve already plumped for Hahn and don’t fancy investing in a second version, rest assured that you have a peach of a disc on your shelves. If you haven’t and you encounter Khachatryan’s disc first, you’d be just as well off with that, especially as he employs such a special instrument. He’s also the more forceful player and therein might lie the answer to a quandary. What’s for sure in my mind is that Ysaÿe himself would have been thrilled to hear either. Alternate them in the habanera finale to the Sixth Sonata (for Manuel Quiroga), Hahn sounding more improvisational, Khachatryan like a force of nature: both bow full-bodied multiple stops and achieve spot-on intonation throughout, and both are superbly recorded. So, over to you.