Rachel Kolly, violin

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- 09 JUN. 2010, "Musolife", C. Jackson


Wandering through the Jardin des Tuileries in blazing June sunshine was certainly one way to beat the Monday blues. The site of the former royal palace sprawled gracefully alongside water features and nude statues, bustling with visitors; some idly dipped their toes into the fountain, others supped coffee and tapped their phones. In the distance the glass pyramid of the Musée du Louvre sparkled, invitingly.

However, we weren't in Paris to sightsee. We continue down the busy pavements, past street vendors making a quick euro on lukewarm water and into a side road where we enter the Hotel Bedford. We wait in a business presentation room, not a venue, one assumes, that was created for music recitals. Thankfully, it is air-conditioned and, promisingly, a grand piano rather than a power point presentation sits at the front. We - an eclectic mix of European journalists and industry types - are here to see rising star violinist Rachel Kolly d'Alba (pictured) showcase her new record, Passion Ysaÿe.

Perhaps because the Ysaÿe is unaccompanied, as well as being technically challenging, D'Alba opens with a Franck sonata (dedicated to Ysaÿe). Her sound is huge, too big for a small hotel room. Anticipating this, she suggests that the man in the front row moves slightly further back. He obliges, no doubt grateful when D'Alba hurls herself into the second movement, sweeping through the complex passages with ease. Forte means forte; angry ascension follows furious descent as notes tumble to life.

Tall and willowy, D'Alba looks every bit the power violinist; her fiery red hair, pale complexion and gothic-style flicked eyeliner reminiscent of indie artist Florence Welch. Today, d'Alba's machine is pianist Christian Chamorel, a superb player, hindered only by the awkward positioning of his instrument versus D'Alba's music stand. (...)

This was illustrated during the subsequent Ysaÿe sonatas (numbers three and five), performed spectacularly, and from memory. Here, the violin becomes an orchestra, with multiple melodic lines and fiendishly tricky techniques required simultaneously. D'Alba conducts her own ensemble, embodying several personalities as she presents an incredibly complex 'one-woman-band'. Ysaÿe's music exploits the instrument's capabilities; chords follow glissandi and pizzicato motifs. The many tonal shades mingle and form new colours, like a painter's brush gliding through a bright palette. D'Alba's style translates well through Ysaÿe's quirky, fast-paced ramblings. Whereas the Franck was (...) expertly executed, her Ysaÿe is poised and engaging.

It's sometimes quite difficult to remember that Ysaÿe died in 1931, for here is repertoire that, even in 2010, still sounds fresh. It is to D'Alba's (and Warner's) credit that this selection of sonatas were pressed to disc. The final result is anything but background music, a compelling compendium of some of Ysaÿe's most thrilling writing realised.

Sources tell me that D'Alba plays her Wigmore debut later this year - looking forward to seeing this violinist on a proper stage, where she belongs.

Passion Ysaÿe is out now, on the Warner Classics & Jazz label.


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