Acclaimed English violinist Thomas Bowes seems to have a penchant for thoroughness and completion. Known and praised for his complete recording of all J. S. Bach’s sonatas and partitas, the European virtuoso has now taken it upon himself to embark on another quest for totality. This time, it is the six sonatas by Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), presented on Bowes' new album, EUGÈNE YSAŸE: SIX SONATAS FOR SOLO VIOLIN. As one would expect from Bowes, they are played to passionate perfection.
Ysaÿe, hailed in his time as no less than the "King of the Violin", is a formidable figure to take on for any modern musician. He was famed not only for precision but more especially for a deeply affecting, quasi-supernatural power of communication. A man of immense generosity and largeness of spirit It is difficult to imagine any violinist adequately reproducing Ysaÿe's compositions and this special aura. Doubly so if one considers the background of the Six Sonatas for Violin. They were written at a crucial point late in life. Plagued by illness and doubt and finding himself increasingly cut off from playing his beloved instrument as he would wish, this deep frustration found expression in this encapsulation of his art. In short, these works – all sketched out at white heat in a 24-hour period and hair-raisingly complex and difficult for the player – are an embodiment of the man.
Thankfully, Bowes not only possesses the technical mastery to command every playing requirement; he also approaches these works with a great sense of empathy towards their creator. It is this attribute which affords him the rarest of insights into Ysaÿe's violinistic mastermind. In fact, Bowes plays with such zest and clarity that the listener occasionally needs to be reminded that these are indeed sonatas for solo violin, not for an ensemble of two or three musicians. It is truly a feast for the ears, and one that has rarely been approached with such sympathy – up until now, that is.
The digital version of the album also includes a stunning performance of one of Ysaye’s rarely heard orchestral works - the miniature masterpiece Exil for the unusual scoring of massed violins and violas.